As in Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS, the symbolic meaning of flowers reveals truths about the main character. In TETHERED, undertaker Clara Marsh tucks an appropriate stem into the coffin of each body she prepares. A daisy for an innocent child; cosmos for a peaceful death; jasmine for an elegant woman. We understand that she is just managing life, putting one foot in front of the other. She lives alone; works alone in the funeral home basement. The only important people in her life are the owners of the funeral home, surrogate parents. Flashbacks describe Clara’s harsh and abusive upbringing at the hands of a neurotically Catholic grandmother.
A tip about the murderer of an unidentified little girl, simply called Precious Doe, brings Detective Mike Sullivan’s unwelcome questioning about the body Clara prepared for burial. Sullivan’s wife has recently died in a car crash; he has returned to work too soon and this case seems particularly important to him. When a young girl shows up sporadically at the funeral home, Clara discovers a link to Precious Doe’s. Clara and Mike are too damaged to handle the investigation well but they persist.
TETHERED is a crime mystery that, sometimes awkwardly, digs into our ideas of religion, life after death, justice and forgiveness. I think Clara’s torturous thoughts often stalled the story’s momentum but scenes like the ones in her private garden carried an ineffableness proper to the theme.
A mature work for a debut author, TETHERED rises well above the chick lit shelf in its daring subject matter and style.
Highly recommended to readers of psychological fiction.