Book of the Day


The Undertaker’s Daughter

By Sara Blaedel

Grand Central Publishing
ISBN 978-1455541119
Publish Date: February 2, 2018

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The Undertaker’s Daughter

Review by Bree Goodchild

She couldn’t read his face, but it might have surprised him that the undertaker’s daughter was a beanpole: six feet tall without a hint of feminine form.”

The clearest memory that Ilka Nichols Jensen had of her father was when she was seven years old. At the race tracks, where she rode a horse for the first time. A young Ilka knew her father would be proud, but soon realized he’d left, to gamble…again. But he didn’t come home this time. Instead, Ilka and her mother were left in Copenhagen, Denmark with a funeral home and a steady debt. Paul Jensen was a bonified gambler and absentee father. Everyone in town knew. Now, almost four decades after his disappearance, Ilka and her mother receive the news that he has passed away. Leaving in his will a funeral home in Racine, Wisconsin (a Danish community) as part of Ilka’s inheritance.

Now a middle-aged woman, school photographer, and recently widowed Ilka, the novel’s heroine, is in a vulnerable position. Her mother, Karin, believes her daughter will disappear into the fray of deceit, debt, and misery that rules the undertaker business. Regardless, Ilka is willing to take the risk; her chance at saving the last connection to the father she wrote to for years but never replied. Was this his answer? 

Ilka Nichols Jensen, Artie Sorvino (makeup artist of the deceased and business partner to Paul Jensen), along with Sister Eileen, Officer Thomas, Karin Jensen and her partner Hanne, and Ilka’s father Paul Jensen. All these characters create a world that takes the reader into the hidden crevices of the funeral business. Well researched and beautifully depicted the author brings the smells, tastes, and sounds of Racine, Wisconsin to life in this short mystery novel, The Undertaker’s Daughter. Produced by Hachette Book Group, Sara Blaedel’s new story focuses on people who take the part of a spectator rather than a detective. An offbeat storyline compared to Blaedel’s usual crime-driven works, like Detective Louise Rick, recognized as an international bestseller series within the genre of Scandinavian crime fiction. 

The mood of the funeral service moved her deeply, and now she felt closer to her father…she realized it was too early for her to go home, with so many facts that didn’t add up, so much left unsaid, so many things still a mystery to her.

Although the majority of the novel is well translated from its original Danish language, there are parts of dialogue and scene transitions that appear awkward. Such as moments when Ilka notices the people around her are mumbling, doing odd tasks, or when it’s difficult to follow along with the heroine’s train of thought between her past memories and present predicaments. Besides those few bumps, I was otherwise impressed with how I picked up the story one minute and all too soon found myself at the ending cliffhanger. Looking forward to where Blaedel will take me with her next installment of the Ilka Nichols Jensen mystery series!

Bree Goodchild is a recent graduate of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville with a BA in English and Theatre Arts. She currently lives in Washington state with her beagle mix, Molly. A fan of a wide genre of books and authors, most recently Temple Grandin, Ira Glass, Terry Moore, Sebastian Barry, and Zora Neale Hurston.