The Undertaker’s Daughter
The Undertaker’s Daughter, by John James Minster
Hey guys, welcome back to Bookish Beyond.
How have you been?
Today, I’m excited to be reviewing The Undertaker’s Daughter, by John James Minster.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
Set in Pennsylvania, USA, Anna Dingle assists her father David with his mortuary business. However, lately, Anna’s life has been missing something – the presence of adventure and romance – it seems. Anna seeks to explore the world, engaging with technology and her first experiences of dating, much to her religious mother’s stern disapproval.
When a gaggle of bullies begins to besmirch Anna’s reputation, she and best friend Naomi seek to return the favour by creating something unnatural to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. However, their plans to solve Anna’s problems soon go awry, creating further problems neither could have anticipated.
Although The Undertaker’s Daughter was filled with numerous characters, six specific individuals took centre stage for me; Anna Dingle, her father David and her mother Marge, Bruce Barnett, her love interest Timmy, and Anna’s best friend Naomi.
Firstly, I would like to explore Anna’s character. Anna Dingle was a kind and caring young lady, with a combination of both beauty and brains. With her strict Christian upbringing, she began the story as quite naïve to the ways of the wider world, having been sheltered from so many of the usual teenage experiences, such as drinking, dating, and the use of modern technology. However, despite this sweet naïve undertone, Anna was not a young woman to be messed with. In difficult situations, she showed herself to be extremely resilient, able to keep a clear head so she could logically think through what decision she should make next. On the whole, she appeared to be wholesome and well put-together, supporting those she loved while doing all she could to resolve her own problems, even if it meant forgiving her enemies.
Secondly, comes David Dingle, Anna’s father and resident undertaker. David is highly skilled in his work and possesses a cool, calm, and collected sense of being. He was a reasonable and rational man on the whole. However, when it came to his daughter Anna’s safety, he displayed a more courageous and protective side, doing whatever he could to keep Anna safe, and to minimize her distress in whatever way possible. David was a supportive and reassuring presence throughout the book, a strong contrast to Anna’s mother, Marge.
Thirdly, allow me to introduce Marge Dingle, Anna’s very religious mother. As a devout, born-again Christian, Marge took a strict approach to how her daughter Anna was raised and didn’t seem to ever approve of anything in her daughter’s life. Anna was forbidden to wear makeup, to date, or to use modern technology as all her friends did. Marge always seemed quite cold and on edge, as though she never felt able to fully relax. Although I could understand why once I learned more about her character’s past, I still couldn’t warm to her at all. There was never a moment in the story where Marge’s sternness seemed to let up, not even when her own daughter was in pain and distress. Therefore, I found Marge’s character to be one-dimensional and easy to dislike.
Next, we come to Naomi, Anna’s best friend, a Jewish girl with a highly pragmatic way of thinking. Naomi was both a supportive and funny presence throughout the book. She would often crack jokes, relieving tense moments in a scene, as well as providing necessary informational context where needed. She was a caring and compassionate person, yet she was also highly logical and studious in nature, the kind of individual to investigate things at a deeper level, to understand what can be done to resolve a problem. Overall, I really came to adore Naomi’s character and found her to be a vibrant presence within the story.
Penultimately, I’d like to examine Timmy, a talented young musician and Anna’s love interest. Timmy was a sweet and caring young man, who immediately gave off a comforting and safe presence. He was also a protective and chivalrous individual, defending Anna’s honour when it was insulted by a far less considerate young man, and supporting Anna in her greatest hours of need. In addition, Timmy was intelligent and articulate, loving and genuine. He was a true gentleman, through and through, and made for a truly likable character.
Finally, we come to Bruce Barnette, the most hateful young man I’ve ever come across in literature (more or less.) It was immediately apparent that Bruce was a troublemaker, throwing eggs at people’s houses and breaking windows, and flirting with whatever pretty girl crossed his shadowy path. However, as the story progressed, it became apparent that he was more than just your average troublemaker – he was downright dangerous. He was an obsessive young man, completely lacking in empathy, and with severely violent tendencies. Although we get to know more about his family, which suggests a childhood of emotional neglect, I could not summon any empathy myself for Bruce’s character, who – to me – appeared as nothing more than a black hole of a person, sucking in all light and matter into his dark and swirling vortex.
There were so many positive elements to The Undertaker’s Daughter, which I have listed below:
- Firstly, the characters are well-written, each with their own unique dreams, motivations, and backstories.
- Secondly, the tension-building was excellent and constantly kept me on my toes. Therefore, I could not put this book down.
- Thirdly, the plot was intriguing and moved along steadily (if not briskly at times), pulling me into the story with ease.
- In addition, the exploration of multiple third-person perspectives allowed for more variety in how we viewed the events of the story. Being able to see things from Anna’s, Naomi’s, and Bruce’s points of view (amongst others) really made the story come alive, as we could see how each lead character viewed the same events in a different way, as coloured by their goals, internal biases, emotions, and past experiences.
- Finally, I came to deeply care about the main characters, as if they were people I knew in real life. I was made privy to their most private thoughts and emotions, to witness their shame and their triumphs. In a sense, it felt like their stakes became my own, as if I would lose or gain whatever they did. In my opinion, this is the true art of a master storyteller and I commend the author for bringing me so close to their unique character’s private lives.
As always, I kept my eye out for some interesting quotes, settling on the following three.
1) ‘We must forgive our enemies. There is no forgiveness for us if we don’t forgive others who hate us.’
2) ‘Bullies are the same everywhere in the world – they seek out differences, flaws, openings to exploit to cause others pain – It’s only a surface excuse to unleash what’s inside of them, that spirit of hate forever goading them.’
3) ‘Hate. It’s real – It’s like electricity, in a way; always right there, a powerful current pulsing just beneath the switch, waiting for us to flick it on.’
Overall, The Undertaker’s Daughter was a tense and gripping tale of hatred vs love and forgiveness as two friends work together to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
Other themes include friendship, religion, love, coming of age, and faith.
My Rating: 5 stars
Recommended to: Those aged 18 and over, who enjoy gripping and somewhat dark spiritual stories involving faith, retribution, friendship, and ancient magic.
Would you like more information?
To learn more about The Undertaker’s Daughter, you can visit its Goodreads page, HERE.
Or, to find out more about John James Minster, simply visit his website, HERE.
As always, thank you for joining me for today’s review.
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Have a wonderful week,