Goodreads): Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville. While growing up, Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual at every funeral: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words, "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."
Now Maylene is gone and Bek must return to the hometown—and the man—she abandoned a decade ago, only to discover that Maylene's death was not natural . . . and there was good reason for her odd traditions. In Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected—and beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D. From this dark place the deceased will return if their graves are not properly minded. And only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk.
And here's what I thought: I've been a fan of this author for a long time, so I was looking forward to this book when it came out. I think she's done a good job here, with an adult fiction novel that has appeal to young adults, and with a story that she wraps up in one book (although I'm sure this could be expanded into future books). She has a good idea here, with the two worlds of the living and the dead, and the connection between the two, and she even throws in some family conflict, for good measure.
Marr's writing is as lyrical here as in her other books, and I thought she did a nice job of creating the setting, and almost making it a character unto itself. Claysville has a tinge of the American South in it, and the slow pace that comes with it. I found the story developed a bit slowly, but with an even pace, which I liked. The one thing I really found interesting, and which I kept thinking about, is that while Marr gives enough description of the characters to give you an idea of who they are, there is nothing super-specific about how they look. Which means that it isn't specific as to the race of the characters --- they could be Black, or White, or anything else ---- it doesn't matter. It might sound odd to say that I found this refreshing, but I really liked that this wasn't focused on -- I could imagine whatever people I liked as the characters, and the story completely worked. It also meant that I could imagine people as regular people; Rebekkah isn't thin, and pretty, and smart ---- she's just a person. Byron isn't the spitting image of Taylor Kitsch; he's just a person. There were no distractions from description, which meant I could just focus on the story.
What I found a bit regrettable was that I found parts of the book to be very predictable. I don't know whether this is due to Marr's writing, or because I just read a lot of books, and as a result, found the plot (and characters) to lead to places I could predict.
Overall, I think this is a good book. It's not amazing and it's not awful --- it's a solid, right in the middle, plain good book. Personally, I think Marr can do a bit better than this, but it's a pretty good effort.
First lines: Maylene put one hand atop the stone for support; pulling herself up from the soil got harder every year. her knees had been problem enough, but of late the arthritis had started settling in her hips. She brushed the soil from her hands and from her skirt and pulled a small bottle from her pocket. Carefully avoiding the green shoots of the tulip bulbs she'd planted, Maylene tilted the bottle over the earth. "Here you go, dear," she whispered. "It's not the shine we used to sip, but it's what I have to share."