A Danish woman desperate to find out more about her father’s past receives an unexpected inheritance in Blaedel’s (The Killing Forest, 2017, etc.) mystery.
When Ilka’s long-estranged father dies, she leaves Denmark for Racine, Wisconsin, where he lived. She assumes that this is her last opportunity to find answers about why he left her and her mother when she was only 7 years old. Her memories are mostly a confused jumble of times at the racetrack, for her father loved horses and gambling. In Racine, surprises await: her father has left her his business—a funeral home—and he has left that business in crushing debt. Ilka has only a few days to decide whether she wants to do the logical thing and sell the business to another local mortuary or do the seemingly crazy thing and try to keep the place running. Her only support comes from Artie, the reconstruction artist, and Sister Eileen, a grumpy nun, both of whom seem to oppose the sale to the Golden Slumbers Funeral Home. And then there are the mysterious break-ins and body desecrations directed toward a dead man with a checkered past. The murder of a young woman 12 years ago still haunts Racine's collective memory, and it’s possible that Ilka has walked right into danger. The premise of this novel is undeniably intriguing, and Ilka’s physical and emotional awkwardness make her a likable character. But the writing is somewhat bland, and the mystery is not particularly well-developed. Part of this issue may stem from Kline’s translation. Ilka’s baffled musings on the American business of death interestingly emphasize flaws in the system from a European viewpoint, but the novel chiefly exists to entertain.
The appealing weirdness of the setting does little to build effective atmosphere.