The Undertaker’s Wife


Author:  Loren D. Estleman
Title:  The Undertaker’s Wife
Genre:  Western
Publication Date:  2005
Number of Pages:  284p
Geographical Setting:  Buffalo, Cleveland, Monroe, MI, San Francisco, Hayes, KS, Virginia City, Chicago (and towns in between).
Time Period:  Post Civil War

Plot Summary:  Told in four parts, this is the story of Richard Connable, his wife, and his “invisible art.”  To avoid scandal, Richard is called out of retirement to make the suicide of a famous financier look as if the man died of natural causes.  His wife Lucy is left to recount the moment that brought them together:  Richard restored her injured brother’s corpse to a presentable state for his funeral.  Following their marriage, the couple moves to the Barbary Coast of San Franciso where Richard wants to bring his services to the West.  Told from both Lucy and Richard’s points of view, The Undertaker’s Wife recounts dirty politics, infidelities, professional gains and losses, prairie life (Wild Bill Hickock makes an appearance as sheriff), the loss of their only child, and their solemn dedication to one another as they slowly make their way back East.

Subject Headings:  Married women—funeral rites and ceremonies—undertakers and undertaking—capitalists and financiers—San Francisco–  Suicide victims–Secrecy

Appeal:  deliberate, measured, reflective, somber, character-centered, minimally detailed, stark, frank, grotesque, bleak, wry, simple, heartbreaking, crisp.

3 terms that best describe this book:  Solemn, macabre, even.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
Wild Bill Hickok, gunfighter: an account of Hickok’s gunfights by Joseph G. Rosa (historical background on Hickock, who dominates Richard’s time in Hays, Kansas)
Rest in peace: a cultural history of death and the funeral home in twentieth-century America by Gary Laderman (more in-depth look at the culture of the undertaker)
Eyewitness to the Old West : first-hand accounts of exploration, adventure, and peril by Richard Scott (adventure in the settling and establishing of the West).

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
Whose names are unknown by Sanora Babb (female centered story about difficulties surviving in California).
A Gentleman In Charleston and the Manner of His Death by William Baldwin.  (details of David Lawton’s death are filled in through flashbacks of his life with historically accurate detail, with language “evocative of the period”.)
The master tanner heads west by W.C. Bamberger (woman moving her family West and dealing with the struggles)

Name: Katy Hite

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