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by Jeanne M. Dams
Walker & Co., May 2001
225 pages
ISBN: 0802776094

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've been enjoying my way through Jeanne M. Dams' Dorothy Martin series, but her Hilda Johansson debut, DEATH IN LACQUER RED, blew me away.

I'm sure many of you are miles ahead of me on this, but for those who aren't, I give this one a five-star recommendation. Characters are alive and real, plot is tense and taut, and historical background is exceptionally well portrayed.

Hilda, an attractive young Swedish immigrant, works in the South Bend mansion of Clement Studebaker and his family, in 1900. Hilda is intelligent, highly principled, and well...just a bit stubborn. When the sister of Judge Harper, the Studebakers' next door neighbor, is murdered, Hilda refuses to permit the police to cover over the killing by conveniently accusing a handy immigrant. With the help of her Irish friends Norah (a maid in the Studebaker household) and Patrick (a South Bend fireman), and others, Hilda pursues the truth, despite placing herself at considerable danger.

Now, here's what's so marvelous about this book, what sets it apart from and above your standard mystery novel. The author has portrayed the life of immigrant workers a hundred years ago with such skill that this background itself rushes the story along, adding immeasurably to the suspense and sense of danger. The reader sees and sees clearly how difficult the life of these immigrants was, how brave and determined they needed to be simply to live and get on in the United States, never mind to solve a murder. Never has any historical nonfiction narrative I've ever read conveyed so effectively to me the difficulties of the people who came here 100 years ago to make our country what it is today; never have I felt so painfully their anger and frustration as they worked at learning a new language and new customs. It's all there, with all the ethnic and religious prejudices, yet the author never even comes close to stepping up onto a soapbox and delivering a lecture.

This is nourishing fare, not a novel to just put down and go on to the next in your TBR pile. But when you do read on, Hilda and her friends will keep intruding into your thoughts; the lady IS stubborn! May this series have a long run indeed.

Reviewed by Larry Karp, November 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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