Shaye Areheart, 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
is a mystery with an unusual protagonist. The main character, Clara Marsh, works as an undertaker, cleaning, embalming, and preparing bodies for burial. Although she is physically small, she also picks up the bodies with a hearse and brings them back to the funeral parlor, only sometimes needing assistance with a larger corpse. What makes Clara unusual, though, isn't her job, but rather her personality. She is extremely shy, finding it hard to look people in the eye when they're talking to her, or to answer them if she isn't sure what they really want to hear her say. As we get to know her better, we begin to understand her diffidence.
lara likes working alone in the basement of the funeral parlor where she prepares the bodies. She's not good at comforting the bereaved families and counts on her employer, Linus Bartholomew, to handle that aspect of the business, something that he does very well. Clara, though, is a true artist, using makeup and tiny stitches to make her clients look almost as though they were asleep, even though they might have died a violent death. The families of these clients are appreciative of Clara's skills, and none of them suspect that she puts appropriate flowers from her own garden into the coffins of the deceased, such as carnations (fidelity) or yellow roses (jealousy).
ne day, after Clara finishes her work, she goes upstairs and is on her way out when she discovers a little girl standing behind some flowers near the door. The little girl says her name is Trecie and that Linus lets her play in the funeral home sometimes. Clara thinks that this is odd, but when she asks Linus, he says that Trecie '
was paying me a visit just a little bit ago,
' and that it's all right for her to be there.
lara frequently works closely with the police, who will call her to remove a body after they've finished their investigations. Mike Sullivan, one of the plainclothes detectives, was involved in trying to solve the murder of a little girl several years ago, and has still not become reconciled at failing to find the murderer. Clara had repaired the sadly mutilated body and placed it lovingly in a casket, and the whole town had seemed to rally around the burial of that poor child. Someone has been calling the minister of the church that buried the child, giving facts that were unknown at the time of the murder, and Mike is brought back to the unresolved case each time a new fact emerges. He confronts Clara with a fact that she was aware of and didn't report, and we begin to see the complicated relationship between Clara and Mike.
he story develops slowly, with little tidbits of information about each character emerging bit by bit. At some point, perhaps half-way through this book, it became difficult for me to put it down, as the facts began to come together into a whole. Clara becomes convinced that Trecie is being abused and that a child she sees during one of her body pick-ups is Trecie's sister. Finding Trecie, who has stopped coming to the funeral home, becomes urgent. The tension and the well-drawn characters, as well as the interesting story make this a memorable book, whose conclusion is both surprising and satisfying.
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