Tethered by Amy MacKinnon

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Tethered by Amy MacKinnon

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Haunting and atmospheric tale of death and loss, wrapped in a murder mystery, scented with flowers. Impressive.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0752899008

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Daisies for innocence. Asphodel for eternal sorrow. These are among the flowers that Clara Marsh has secretly tucked inside coffins. Her mother died when she was just a child. Her grandmother took her in – a grandmother that had long since abandoned her own daughter to her sins and eternal damnation, and felt much the same about her orphaned grand-daughter. A grandmother who showed no love.

Clara was taken in to a family and community that believed in such things as God and damnation, but she found no salvation there. What she found instead, at her mother's funeral, was the warmth and comfort shown by the undertaker.

So she became one.

It is Clara who tells this tale of love, loss and pain. It is Clara' whose work brings her a small visitor – a neglected little girl who wanders among the coffins simply because she likes the flowers; Clara who fetches the bodies and cleans them and gives them back the dignity many of them had allowed life to strip away. She tells us some of their stories in passing, what little she knows of them. Taken in as one of the family at the funeral home run by the kindly, if slightly other-worldly Linus and his wife Alma, it is Clara who deals with many of the morning, noon and night calls by the police – Clara who, three years ago, laid to rest the unclaimed murder victim: a young girl found murdered in the local woods.

In her work Clara lives with death and it holds no fears for her. But she has her own rituals – if not to sanctify her work, at least to cleanse a little of it. She lights a candle for each body, plays them some music. And upon each she passes a kind of judgement, lain to rest with them in the language of flowers. Daisies for innocence: daisies for Precious Doe as the townsfolk came to call the unclaimed murdered child.

As Clara struggles to understand why Trecie should choose the funeral home as a playground, and completely fails to relate to the child's pain in the same way that she completely fails to deal with her own, a local police Detective, Mike Sullivan, starts to question her again about Precious Doe. That there should be a link between these two lost children comes as no surprise.

When Trecie goes missing and one more unimportant local natural causes body puts them on the trail of a local child-porn scene, Sullivan keeps pulling at the threads of the Precious case, taking himself and Clara further into danger.

Part thrilling murder mystery, part psycho-dramatic rendition of how Clara came to be who she is, Tethered succeeds on every level.

The police are by turns callous and gentle, honourable and disinterested. The station is grubby and smoke-stained and surprisingly true to the many such offices rendered in television series. Investigations proceed apace, and stagnate.

Flowers are scattered throughout the tale, their judgements included (reason enough to keep the book once you've read it).

MacKinnon keeps her cast-list small and pens them in short bursts of realism, building their pictures slowly and occasionally surprisingly.

The atmosphere plays on the claustrophobic nature of the funeral home, the closing ranks of families at the worst of times. The technicalities of funereal preparation in a society that holds wakes around the open casket are succinct and strangely unaffecting. The burial preparations are among the least sad scenes in this haunting tale. Worse is to be found in secret midnight visits to the gravesides, and in the homes of those who suffer loss and in the minds of those who carry on regardless.

Of course, it is ultimately a tale of love, of faith, of the possibility of redemption (whatever that may mean). Dark and heavy throughout, it drags you relentlessly through its mere 250 pages in search of hope – chipping away at the edges of grace at every turn.

Superb.

Further reading suggestion: If you prefer your crime wrapped up in something a little more beautiful than body-bags, you might also enjoy Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow.

Buy Tethered by Amy MacKinnon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tethered by Amy MacKinnon at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Tethered by Amy MacKinnon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tethered by Amy MacKinnon at Amazon.com.


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