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by Jeanne M. Dams
Walker & Co., June 2002
240 pages
ISBN: 0802733735

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The year is 1903, the setting South Bend, Indiana. Your family have emigrated from Sweden and there's never quite enough money to go around, even though everyone works - right down to your twelve-year-old brother. You are a live-in maid at the Studebaker mansion, serving under a tyrannical butler who rules with an iron fist. Wednesdays you are permitted the afternoon off, and Sundays you have the entire day. That's after church, of course, and dinner with the family, and you have to be back at the mansion before dark. Do you have enough free time to solve a mystery?

The answer is no, you don't. How this woman manages to sneak about and manipulate those around her into covering her tracks is a mystery in itself. Yet Hilda Johansson somehow finds a way to hunt down witnesses, follow up clues, unravel the truth. And this isn't the first time, either.

I don't buy it.

That thought bulldogged me throughout the entire book. Missing children? Sure, whatever. But how did Hilda get the night off? Child abuse - uh huh, read about that before. So what's she going to do next, weave a ladder out of old petticoats and climb out the attic window? I guess you could say that the plot wasn't quite strong enough to hold my attention.

There were two things I found mildly interesting. One was the attitude displayed by each and every character in this book toward child abuse. No one was blase. Not one of them was less than sickened, horrified and furious that this kind of thing could happen. It made me wish we could see a little more of that sort of reaction today, in real life.

The second thing that stuck in my mind was the absolute futility of a romantic relationship between Hilda, a Swedish Lutheran, and Irish Catholic Patrick. Though they are old enough that they may marry if they so choose, a union of that sort would be nothing less than scandalous. And yet, perhaps we see the families inching toward acceptance. Will they give Patrick and Hilda their blessings in the end? Would they really, in 1903?

SILENCE IS GOLDEN is the fourth Hilda Johansson mystery. The author, Jeanne Dams, actually lives in South Bend where the books are set - though it's a century later now, of course. She also writes the Dorothy Martin series for which she has won an Agatha. Perhaps I'll try one of those, but I certainly won't be visiting Hilda again.

Reviewed by Jenifer Nightingale, July 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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