Sunday, 11 August 2013

Book Review: Murder in Burnt Orange

Murder in Burnt Orange: A Hilda Johansson Mystery
by Jeanne M. Dams (2011) ****

Several months ago, someone suggested that I might want to read the Hilda Johansson mysteries by Jeanne M. Dams. I’m not sure whether that was in a comment on this blog or on my Greetings from the Past blog, where I have been writing quite a lot about my great-aunt Gerda, who emigrated to America in 1902 to work as a maid in various households in Chicago for about ten years (and later on as companion for rich English ladies travelling both in Europe and other countries).

Hilda Johansson, the heroine in a series of mystery novels by J.M. Dams, is also a Swedish immigrant working as a housemaid, not in Chicago but in South Bend, Indiana, in the early years of the 20th century.

I had never heard of neither the author nor her books before, but found one of the novels available cheap for Kindle ($2.99), so I decided to give it a go. It must be  at least the 7th book in the series, but the previous ones seem not to be available for Kindle at all.

In Murder in Burnt Orange, Hilda is no longer working as a housemaid, and has also changed her surname, since she is recently married. She is also pregnant with her first child. There are several reminders of Hilda’s background throughout the book though, so not difficult to read it as a stand-alone novel.

The general set-up reminds me quite a bit of the Maise Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear (of which I have reviewed two or three before on this blog) – even if Hilda, unlike Maisie, has not made a professional career of her detecting skills.

All in all I quite enjoyed making Hilda’s acquaintance and was impressed with the auhtor’s use of historical background. The novel is set in 1905, and inspired partly by some real historical events, like labor unrest (in Chicago), strikes and train wrecks.

Here’s the blurb copied from Amazon:

It's a heat wave in more ways than one in the summer of 1905, as strikes, arson, and train wrecks threaten the fabric of civilized society in South Bend, Indiana. In the tumultuous first years of the twentieth century, anarchy seems to rule, with the assassination of an American president and labor unrest like the Anthracite Coal Strike bringing misery to millions. How can a Swedish immigrant like Hilda Johanssson, formerly a housemaid and now pregnant with her first child, possibly affect these conditions? Making deductions worthy of Sherlock Holmes - and using her own "Baker Street Irregulars” - Hilda reognizes a pattern to the disturbing events. No one thinks she'll actually be able to solve matters, especially since custom forbids her even leaving the house. But they reckon without Hilda's quick mind and stubborn determination to see the job through - even when the crime wave turns into murder, and touches her nearest and dearest.


  1. I must have found your blog a while ago and decided to become a follower and then lost touch. I am so glad I rediscovered it now. I enjoy keeping in touch with Swedish bloggers. I left Sweden over 50 years ago, but I'm very Swedish still. And, of course, I love to read books that have something to do with Sweden or Swedes in America. Thanks for this review, I will check out the series.

  2. Hi Inger, thanks for your comment - I've now signed up to follow your blog as well.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes. I don't usually write reviews until I've actually read the book. I read this one back in July, fit in perfectly with the weather. Hot in the book, hot here when I read it!

  4. It does sound nice; are you now going to try and find the rest of the series?

    1. As the first six seem not to be available as e-books (or through my Swedish library) I think I'll give them a miss. I might consider buying the next one in the series though - which is available for Kindle, but not as cheap as this one. I'll wait with the decision. I alread have so many other books waiting. If I still remember Hilda after some times has passed and find myself curious how she's getting on, I might return to look for her!

  5. it upsets me when i read a book that is part of a series and did not read them in order. several weeks ago i found a new series by an author i like, the books on kindle were numbered 1 2 and 3 in the series. i read book one and loved it. when i went to book 2 it was the 3rd in the series and 3 was the first...

    1. That kind of negligence would annoy me too. It might not be necessary with all series to read them in order, but the publisher should be able to provide the correct information.


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