Death In Lacquer Red

Written by Jeanne M. Dams
Review by Steve Lewis

There are now three in the series, but this marks the first appearance of young household maid Hilda Johansson, and the first murder she’s involved in. She works under a tremendous handicap, too, as in South Bend, Indiana, April 1900, servants (especially female) were not expected to leave the house without permission, much less conduct an investigation on their own, asking impertinent questions and doing all of the footwork that needs to be done.

Hilda works for the wealthy Studebaker family, one of South Bend’s most illustrious (and real life) names. Next door are the Harpers (fictitious), and it is Judge Harper’s missionary sister, recently returned from China, who is murdered. Hilda, and her would-be paramour, Patrick Cavanaugh, find her.

Would-be, as the Swedes and the Irish do not really mix socially. Hilda is quite progressive, however, with an independent streak a mile long. Her sense of right and wrong is deeply challenged by the killing, and through the servants’ grapevine, plus some other highly irregular nighttime activities, she nudges justice in the right direction.

Read this book for the characters, though, finely drawn and irresistible. The mystery is weak, with a loose end or two left dangling. No matter. I’m ready for more.