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. . . .
Review: This is the debut adult novel by the very popular Melissa Marr, author of many young adult books and the faery series Wicked Lovely. Having lived under a rock for several years, I'd never even heard of this author, but Graveminder looked so intriguing on the library shelf and I eagerly grabbed it. It sounded like such a deliciously creepy and original blend of paranormal mystery that I couldn't wait to jump in. And it was...kind of.
BEWARE - HERE THERE BE PLOT DETAILS!!!!!! So don't read further if you don't want to know.
The overall story of a town both blessed and cursed by a contract with Death was truly original and a great premise. But the first 100 pages or so was a slow and frustrating start, and didn't build up tension, atmosphere and mystery so much as it was something to slog through, hoping to get to the good stuff. We learn that Rebekkah and Byron have a long history of loving each other, yet every time they get close, Rebekkah runs away - literally. She runs from city to city and job to job, trying to escape her feelings for Byron, and he is always there for her. When her grandmother is murdered, and she returns home to Claysville for the funeral, Byron has already moved back to Claysville and is there for her. But her continued emotional immaturity, and his understandable frustration but puzzling devotion, begins to feel like an annoying emotoinal hamster wheel that these two just keep running on. Their relationship seems much like a teenager/angsty/melodrama rather than two adults trying to grieve their losses and sort their feelings.
The mystery of Claysville, its people and their dying (and behavior after dying) was truly a spooky, smart, original story. The plot was so clever in how it explains the rest of the town's seeming obliviousness to the supernatural shenanigans around them. They live their lives in a fog of good health, waiting for permission to have children, and getting intense headaches when they learn too much. It sounds like a kind of hell, actually. Unfortunately, by the time that part of the story became the focus, the story had lost most of its momentum for me. When Beks learns that she has been selected as the next Graveminder, and Byron is the next Undertaker, they are clueless, because the previous title-holders had intentionally kept them in the dark, hoping to buy them time for a "normal" life. So as they learn the history of the town and the roles they must play, so does the reader. But the information is doled out so sparingly, I became bored and I had to force myself to finish the book. As Beks learns that the Graveminder is of the living and the dead, she suddenly feels drawn to the dead and their world, and has new powers and abilities. (Although she is still an emotionally immature twit.) Which she handles with remarkable aplomb, given her history of running away from anything and everything that would require a relationship or responsibility. But the sudden segue from mere mortal to special powers felt forced. Beks suddenly has intense feelings of maternal-like compassion and possessiveness over the dead, and instinctively knows how to use them. Byron's love for her blossoms just as he learns of his fated role as her protector, her Undertaker. He's suddenly shooting people to get to her.
I think I am mostly disappointed, because this story should have been MORE. So much potential with a fresh and spooky story, an alternate world, and new rules for the dead coming back to life, and yet the overall effect was an anoying relationship, a hastily assumed supernatural role, and a sudden ending that neatly wrapped up a murder mystery, family problems, new job angst, and questions about the history of Claysville and how the contract was started. The latter really felt forced - the explanation was that the first Graveminder opened up a gateway and waltzed into the world of the dead, Death fell in love with her and all kinds of complications ensued. And it was explained in about a paragraph, which frustrated me no end after I'd read through the entire book hoping for more satisfying explanations. I was left with many more questions. If Death is so powerful he can provide perfect health and mind control for a town over three centuries, how come he says he can only control the dead? Why is a former Graveminder still stuck in the limbo that is the dead's town? How do they keep track of townspeople who leave Claysville and get killed, thereby rising to eat the living? Would vodka or Diet Coke or Kool-Aid work as well as whiskey in controlling the newly dead? This has the setup for a sequel, if not a series. Byron and Rebekkah have a lifetime to learn about their new roles and relationship, and a former Graveminder is still mysteriously hanging out in the land of the dead, stirring up problems for Death.
If you, like me, were looking for a deliciously creepy little mystery with a little romance, you'll probably be disappointed. But if your preference is for complicated, angst-y relationships with a background of the paranormal you'll probably love this book.
For more information visit the author's website at http://www.melissa-marr.com/.