The book is part ghost story, part mystery, and part psychological drama. It’s told from the point of view of a neurotic, antisocial undertaker who doesn’t believe in the afterlife. She gets pulled into a mystery surrounding a child pornography ring, trying to rescue a little girl who often hangs out at the funeral parlor where she works. After awhile, though, the police stop believing that the little girl exists, and they start thinking of the kind and fatherly funeral home director as a suspect in the pornography ring. The undertaker, Clara, battles herself, wanting isolation and a complete disconnect from everyone, but at the same time, being drawn to Mike the cop and the little girl begging her for help.
Things I liked:
The book was well-written, without any quirks that irritated me. Clara’s backstory is fascinating. She grows up in an almost Carrie-like home, so it had that same Stephen King feel in parts. In the middle, the book starts to feel like Clara’s an unreliable narrator, prone to hallucinations and other neurosis, and that was completely fascinating. Many of the side characters – the funeral home director and his wife, the reverend and his mother, a couple of the cops, the little girls – were interesting and felt very real. I was surprised by the revelation about the little girl who hangs out in the funeral parlor.
Things I didn’t like:
I knew the true culprit almost from the beginning. In other words, solving the crime was too easy. I also couldn’t tell what the author’s intent was. It almost seemed as if she had multiple ideas and combined them rather than trimming. Clara isn’t a great narrator. She’s the sort of person who tries to be as invisible as possible, and in first person, I couldn’t really relate to her. Her personality and final relationship to Mike make no sense to me based on what I know about them. Lastly, it felt as if the author tries to make a point that the afterlife exists, ghosts exist, we can commune with the dead, and fortune telling is valid. I’d be okay with that, except that the message wasn’t really there until the very end, so it felt forced.
So I don’t know. I half liked the book, and half disliked it. This was really fairly neutral, I suppose.
As a warning for anyone else who might want to try it, it does deal a lot with death and the undertaking process. There are some graphic scenes involving dead bodies. A couple times I almost put the book down because they were a bit too much for me, but the story kept me going.