‘The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill’ – C.S. Robertson


Grace McGill…a character who makes her living out of death, and the undiscovered deaths referred to in the title are not quite what we might believe. Our journey with Grace might seem quite predictable in ways, but it throws up some interesting diversions along the way.

I’ve noticed there’s been an increasing number of characters in books released over the last year or so that are likely to be on the autistic spectrum and Grace is no exception. Socially awkward, lonely, liable to become fixated on certain topics and with a keen sense of right and wrong…Grace ticks a lot of the conventional boxes that alienate her in a neurotypical world. Her choice of job exacerbates the sense of oddness that hangs over Grace, but it’s crucial to what unfolds.

Grace is a death cleaner. She is called to clean up after a body has been discovered – often having lain undisturbed for months, sometimes years. Grace cleans and decontaminates these rooms, preparing them once again to join the normal world. The details given are stomach-churning, but to shy away from them would make us part of the problem. Grace believes that these people she works with, though no longer with us, are victims. Victims of society. The ones that slip through the cracks, with nobody deeming them important enough to check in with. So Grace vows to do her duty and help them leave this world with dignity.

I’ll admit to finding the details about Grace’s work unpleasant but darkly fascinating. I was intrigued by her attitude to her work, and the revelation that she creates these beautiful dioramas of the rooms she encounters struck me as unusual. Grace’s determination to honour each of her clients in representing their final rooms showed her obsessive nature to perfection. So it came as little surprise when she started to notice patterns in the scenes…

When she goes to the police with her observations about a dried daisy being found in two of the rooms she has recently cleaned they virtually laugh her out of the station. Yet Grace is convinced there’s more to this than meets the eye. In her mind, these deaths are related and she is determined to find out how.

It was at this point – a little over halfway through – that the book takes a turn in a rather unexpected direction and shifts into more familiar territory. Grace gets caught up in investigating a decades-old mystery, determined to restore dignity to this young girl who went missing after a holiday with friends. This shift in focus jars initially, and felt a little disappointing after such an intriguing opening, but as things continue it becomes apparent why it’s been done this way.

Grace McGill is not a character that readers will necessarily find endearing. She’s not without her faults, and yet there’s something about her and her story that gets under your skin. As we got given more details about Grace and the mystery of Valerie Moodie it was apparent that there was more to the character of Grace than meets the eye. There were signs throughout the book of what was happening, but it was easy to overlook them or – as I did – think I was reading too much into a throwaway comment. However you come to view Grace it’s hard not to be affected by her final work and what it tells us about her.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this before publication. I can’t wait to see how Grace is received when she makes her way into the world in January 2022.