The writings of Sara Blaedel remain a treasure trove yet to be discovered by many crime fiction explorers. Her series featuring homicide detective Louise Rick is beloved by fans for its portrayal of the rarely-seen underbelly of Danish society, but with The Undertaker’s Daughter, she launches a new and very different series.
The Undertaker’s Daughter is crime fiction, but because it is the first book in a series, it is heavy on set-up, thereby ensuring a strong foundation for the books yet to come. This means that the actual crime element needs to take a bit of a backseat, but still there are plenty of enigmatic unknowns woven into the plot to satisfy.
The Undertaker’s Daughter begins in Denmark, where Ilka Nichols Jensen is notified that her long-estranged father has passed away. Ilka has not had any communication with him since she was seven, but has always felt a longing to better know the man who was never there.
Against advice, Ilka travels to the United States for the reading of her father’s will. It is there that she discovers that he has bequeathed her his business – a funeral home consumed by debt. Before she knows it, Ilka finds herself taking client meetings, picking up dead bodies, and dodging offers to sell the business. All while trying to understand this strange new role foisted upon her unexpectedly.
It is in this section that Sara Blaedel shines. Readers get a real sense of how out of her element Ilka is, and yet can’t help rooting for her to succeed. Fans of the television show Six Feet Under will enjoy another look behind the scenes of the funerary business. Just as with that show, The Undertaker’s Daughter blends serious moments with more trivial light-hearted escapades.
It is through her work at her father’s business that Ilka stumbles upon the mystery that intrigues her. Like much of Ilka’s journey this involves an examination of the past and how it affects the present, but this really is not a major focus of the novel. In many ways, it’s just another window into Ilka, allowing the reader to bond with this unique character.
Ilka’s travels to America take her to Racine, Wisconsin – an area of the country that sees much influence from Danish culture. Sara Blaedel herself has recently moved to the States (albeit, to New York), so it is no surprise that she would launch a series about such a relocation. It is another way of making Ilka feel like an outsider – and motivates her to learn about herself so she can contribute to the society. Amongst her new neighbors, her employees, and even her father’s other family, Ilka has no safe harbor and must rely upon herself to survive – and thrive.
The Undertaker’s Daughter does end with many unanswered questions, so readers should be prepared for that. There is a very deliberate cliffhanger ending that may frustrate some crime fiction aficionados, but if one thinks about how long it really takes to get to know a new person, it also makes sense given the character-focused structure of the novel. And it whets the appetite for the next book in the series.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.