The Undertakers (A Murder & Magic Novel)

Written by Nicole Glover
Review by Judith Starkston

The Undertakers is book two in Glover’s Black speculative fiction Murder and Magic series. Set with vivid historical detail in post-Civil War Philadelphia, the two continuing main characters, husband and wife Benjy and Hetty Rhodes, are now operating a funeral parlor, although their primary activities are as magical practitioners and detectives. They previously conducted slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

At the opening, the sleuths have unsatisfactorily closed a case—it’s too neat and tidy. They attribute the murder to a hose company that, instead of dousing fires, targets the Black community in magically triggered fires. When the murdered man’s son also dies, they throw themselves back into investigating, becoming entangled in their pasts as conductors. Some of their oldest allies may be working against them, and protecting their true friends grows ever more dangerous.

In the alternative world Glover creates, various kinds of magic are practiced in the Black community. Hetty and Benjy use star magic, generating constellation signs from flicks of their fingers and spells. These star sigils fight off attacks, transport characters, grant invisibility, and other powers that Hetty and Benjy can call up when needed. An early encounter with a violent hex in the one house on a street left unburnt demonstrates Glover’s fantasy:

“With the restraints gone, the hex started to charge. Hetty drew sigils in the air, but Benjy was quicker. The Taurus star sigil rammed itself into the hex. Catching it by the horns, the star-speckled bull shook its head mightily and sent the hex flying. Guided by Benjy, the bull chased after the hex. The spells bounced from wall to wall, the splash of colors mixing and clashing.”

The Undertakers offers an entertaining mix of historical and magical mystery.