As an undertaker, Clara spends most of her days in the basement of a funeral home, carefully preparing dead bodies for their final viewing. In every casket she carefully hides a bouquet of her choice, lovingly selected to emulate their qualities and personality, if she knows them. One day she sees a little girl, Trecie, alone in the funeral home, who will neither leave or leave Clara alone. When Mike Sullivan, a policeman who is determined to get to the bottom of a three-year-old murder of another abused little girl, begins asking Clara questions, they realize that the cases may be related. Clara must choose between isolating herself and saving the life of a little girl who has found her way into her heart.
I surprised myself by liking this book so much. I have been making an effort recently to read and review the ARCs that didn’t catch me on my first try and eliminate any possible backlog. I’d categorized this one as a murder mystery, not my favorite, and the description of preparing a dead body for a funeral on the first few pages didn’t do much to peak my interest. So it sat unread and I felt guilty. Well, now I don’t feel guilty, and I’m happy because I read a fantastic book.
The one thing that pulled me in this book and wouldn’t let go was the character of Clara. Clara had a hard, hard childhood, bits and pieces of which are given to us throughout the narrative. As a result, she’s developed certain coping mechanisms, and one of them is hiding herself from the world, associating with mainly dead people, the two owners of the funeral home, and her garden. When Mike comes poking around, asking questions about the little girl who she essentially repaired more than she has done for any other human being, Clara’s defensive walls start to crack a little, and they continue to do so over the course of the novel. It was this slow unveiling which made the book for me. The other characters are similarly interesting and multi-dimensional; it’s hard to guess at the “bad guy” until clues start coming in thick and fast, because he seems good enough most of the time.
The only thing that bothered me were the many descriptions of dead people, particularly the one at the beginning where Clara describes what she does to them. I can’t say I really needed to know that. I understand to a basic extent what goes into preparing a body for an open casket but I didn’t really need to know all about it. Clara and various police officers and helpers also routinely go to the houses of dead people to pick the bodies up. All of these pickups do provide us with plot development, but corpses make me uncomfortable. It was worth it to get past that, but it is worth noting if this squicks you out.
Overall, I found this to be a great book with a fantastic main character. I think it would appeal to both mystery lovers and non-mystery lovers like me, because there is enough character development and suspicion to go around! I’m sorry I didn’t get to this book sooner; it was that great.