Master stylist and storyteller Estleman, who writes mainly about professionals like himself, offers a gilded companion to The Master Executioner (2001).

The protagonist of that previous volume was a hangman; here, the expert is an undertaker. Three months before the turn of the 20th century, famed capitalist Elihu Warrick has shot himself in the head in his first-class stateroom on the Michigan Central railroad. To save the market, five colossal stockbrokers in New York decide that Warrick’s suicide must be passed off as a natural death, with his open casket on display. They call in Richard Connable, retired master of the Dismal Trade and artist of the Connable Method for preparing bodies for burial. He leaves at once from his home in Buffalo to claim the cadaver in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Richard’s badly run-down wife, Lucy, thinks of her spouse as “elephantiastically unobservant.” Lucy too has washed and painted corpses; now she’s afraid her own skull shows through as she goes to Richard’s old funeral parlor to choose her casket while he’s away. Her thoughts turn to their past. During the Civil War, young Richard, at the time an apprentice to his undertaker father, restored for burial Lucy’s dead brother’s ruined head. He and Lucy married, moved to San Francisco, built and opened a funeral parlor. Driven out of town by a crooked colonel, they moved with daughter Victoria to Fort Hays, Kan., where Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok resolved a problem for Richard with the four Rooneys’ cheapo mortuary. Spiritual events drive the Connables to many towns before settling down in Buffalo. But tragic moments have already come, more strongly than the reader foresees. Tons of absorbing scenes of embalming and cosmetic restoration—but no ghastly Wisconsin Death Trip. (Winner of The Kirkus Award for Hand-Carved Walnut Historical Prose 2005.)


Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-765-30913-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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