A widow’s efforts to become a home-funeral guide entangle her in a murder case in this novel.
As Abby Tiernan’s husband, Tom, lies dying of cancer, he requests a home funeral rather than being embalmed in a mortuary and interred in an expensive casket. Washing and preparing a body at home, with burial in a simple wooden box, used to be the common practice, but nowadays few even know that it’s legal. In today’s culture, says a home-funeral guide Abby consults, “we want to disappear our dead.” After Tom’s death, Abby spirals downward, but starts pulling herself together—especially when community members in Falls Harbor, Maine, start asking for her help in conducting their own home funerals. She’s at first reluctant, but Abby sees a need and eventually starts offering her services as a home-funeral guide to people like Mark Jackson, whose wife, Susan, is dying. But not everyone appreciates her efforts, such as a local funeral home director. Attempts are made to scare her off; worse, Abby falls under suspicion after Susan dies—and readers already know from the prologue that it’s murder. Questions swirling, Abby decides to investigate, while also trying to salvage a relationship with her daughter, Delia, and to get closer to Brad Rainey, a Falls Harbor detective and widower. Buried secrets come to light, and Abby finds a way to move on while helping others. Mackey (Suddenly Spying, 2016, etc.) offers an unusual but successful combination of murder mystery, romance after widowhood, and a mother-daughter story with an informative and thoughtful discussion on attitudes and practices toward the dying and funerals. The traditional funeral-home director gets to say his piece here as well, giving the question a fair outing. The author also discusses the ethical issues involved with assisted suicide versus euthanasia, again presenting points of view equitably. These issues link well with the plot, and rarely become didactic. The mother-daughter dilemma is somewhat melodramatic and Abby’s endless what-if questions can become tiresome, but these are minor concerns.
Goes beyond a cozy, small-town mystery to consider some immense and difficult matters.