Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel
Ilka Series Booke One
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father–who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago–has died. And he’s left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.
Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn’t heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father’s things–hoping for some insight into his new life in America–before preparing the business for a quick sale.
But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker’s daughter realizes she might be in over her head . .
With a slight mystery element, The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an interesting novel about a Danish woman who unexpectedly inherits a funeral home in Wisconsin from her estranged father.
Forty year old Ilka Nichols Jensen is shocked to learn her father who abandoned her over thirty years ago has included her in his will. Ignoring her mother’s advice to remain uninvolved with the inheritance, Ilka quickly heads to Wisconsin hoping to learn more about her dad but instead discovers the funeral home is in dire financial straits. With the help of Artie Sovino and Sister Eileen O’Connor, Ilka jumps right into planning funerals while trying to decide what she should do with the business.
Ilka is a bit of an inconsistent character as she tries to decide the future of the funeral home. One minute she is prepared to stay and the very next minute she is ready to book her return flight to Denmark. At the same time, Ilka is trying to understand why her father abandoned her and her mother and she is hoping to find answers among his belongings and the business.
Ilka’s memories of her father are somewhat hazy and fleeting and seem to center around her dad’s love of horse racing and his gambling at the racetrack. She only has the vaguest of clues about the events surrounding his move and her memories are filtered through her mother’s animosity over the situation he left them in. Although Ilka gleans a few clues about his life in the US, she is puzzled by the information she has discovered nor can she make sense of some of the troubling items she has unearthed.
Although Ilka has no experience working in a funeral home, she has no choice but to help the bereaved lay their loved ones to rest. Although the few funerals she helps plan are somewhat mundane, the arrival of an unidentified homeless person’s corpse embroils her, Artie and Eileen in a bit of a mystery. While the police do eventually discover who he is, his identity raises some very intriguing questions about a still unsolved murder from twelve years earlier. This mystery plays out on the periphery of the novel and even though Ilka is curious about what happened to the man, she does not play much of a role in the investigation.
The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an easy to read novel with an unusual premise and a mostly likable but sometimes frustrating protagonist. The funeral home is an out of the ordinary backdrop for the unfolding story and it is quite obvious Sara Blaedel carefully researched the intricacies involved with the funeral business. While the current mystery is completely wrapped up, the novel ends with a cliffhanger about Ilka’s father. Hopefully the next installment in the Ilka series will be less of a character study and more of a mystery.