The Red, White, and Blue Murders (Hilda Johansson Series #2)

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The Studebaker household is in turmoil; the news that President McKinley has been assassinated is more than anyone can stand. South Bend, Indiana, is not a hotbed of anarchist activity, but something is clearly going on. When McKinley's death is blamed on foreign-born anarchists, Hilda Johansson, a recent immigrant, is concerned that fellow immigrants might be swept up in a wave of xenophobia. Despite orders to mind her own business, she sets out to discover exactly what is happening, no matter what it might cost...

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Overview

The Studebaker household is in turmoil; the news that President McKinley has been assassinated is more than anyone can stand. South Bend, Indiana, is not a hotbed of anarchist activity, but something is clearly going on. When McKinley's death is blamed on foreign-born anarchists, Hilda Johansson, a recent immigrant, is concerned that fellow immigrants might be swept up in a wave of xenophobia. Despite orders to mind her own business, she sets out to discover exactly what is happening, no matter what it might cost her. This is Dams' second Hilda Johansson novel, following DEATH IN LACQUER RED. Combining the charm of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS with brilliant sleuthing, these novels have everything a traditional mystery fan wants.

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Editorial Reviews

Toby Bromberg
Played out against the turmoil of the McKinley assassination, The Red, White, and Blue Murders is both a clever mystery and an insightful look at the "Upstairs, Downstairs" world in turn-of-the-century America.
Romantic Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After building a readership with her stories of a contemporary American sleuth, Dorothy Martin, plying her skills in England (The Body in the Transept, Trouble in the Town Hall, etc.), Dams launched a new series with last year's Death in Lacquer Red. A historical set in the author's native South Bend, Ind., that novel introduced Hilda Johansson, a resourceful Swedish immigrant housemaid. Here Hilda returns for a second outing in which murders both local and national disturb the city's tranquillity. In the summer of 1901, class-consciousness, anti-immigrant bias and general chauvinism bubble beneath the surface of outwardly staid South Bend. The shooting of President William McKinley by Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo and the murder of a prominent local builder, Roger Warren, threaten to inflame sentiments against all immigrants. Worse, Flynn Murphy, the brother of Hilda's friend Norah, is the chief suspect in Warren's murder. Despite the constraints of her position in the household of the wealthy Studebaker family, Hilda is determined to exonerate Flynn by uncovering the real murderer. Though she must grapple with a new language, a new country and the many limitations of her class and gender, Hilda proves up to the task. The insights into working-class life of a century ago are an added bonus in this entertaining mystery. Agent, Reece Halsey Agency North. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
VOYA
The Studebaker house staff is shocked at the news that President McKinley has been shot in an assassination attempt. Hilda Johanssen, the Swedish maid and incorrigible snoop, is appalled by the news that anarchists are responsible. In 1901 South Bend, Indiana, anarchists and labor advocates are considered one and the same, and Hilda and fellow maid Norah Murphy who is Irish fear that their brothers—Flynn Murphy who works at the woolen mill and Sven Johanssen, who works at the Studebaker factory—might be involved. When it is discovered that the assassin spoke at a meeting of working men only weeks before the attempt upon the president's life, antianarchist sentiment reaches a fever pitch. Then a somewhat shady building contractor and his foreman, the latter wrapped in an American flag, are found dead at the site for the new city hall, and Flynn Murphy is arrested for murder. It becomes apparent that the police will not look further than a convenient immigrant scapegoat. Hilda, convinced of Flynn's innocence, decides she must both discover the truth behind the anarchist rumors and solve these terrible murders. Written from a unique perspective, this mystery incorporates accurate historical details and offers a most engaging character in Hilda. The glimpses of a long-vanished time that included live-in servants and stately homes are fascinating. Without being preachy, this novel makes clear the fact that antiimmigrant sentiments have always been part of the American experience. The second in a series, this mystery will appeal to teens who enjoy historical fiction and is a perfect choice for curriculum support. Libraries that purchased Hilda's first adventure, Death in Lacquer Red(Walker, 1999/VOYA October 1999), also will want to add this sequel. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Walker, 201p, $23.95. Ages 16 to Adult. Reviewer: Joanna Morrison

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

Library Journal
The assassination of President McKinley upsets the Studebakers, who employ series sleuth Hilda Johansson (Death in Lacquer Red) as housemaid. The family coachman's anarchist sympathies, however, cause Hilda to investigate her way right into danger. A charming historical for all collections. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
Young Swedish housemaid Hilda Johansson's turn-of-the-century South Bend, Indiana, was more like a cozy household disrupted by murder in her first outing (Death in Lacquer Red, 1999). But recent labor rumblings have turned the factory town's streets meaner during a dog day summer a year later, when a well-known contractor is found dead and wrapped in a US flag on the construction site of the new city hall. Because President McKinley's assassin, immigrant anarchist Leon Czolgosz, had recently been in South Bend, police assume the contractor was a target of local political anarchists. Hilda's household peers are shaken both by the arrest of Norah's brother, their co-worker, for the murder and by rumors of unrest at the Studebaker family factory. Only the patriarchal hand of Hilda's beloved employer, Clem Studebaker, could calm the storm, but he's ailing and away from home. So hard-driving Hilda sorts out clues from Red herrings, sorting through her own complicated loyalties to Clem and class as well. While Hilda and her network—the servants working for prominent South Bend families, the web of Swedish siblings and Lutheran churchgoers, her Irish fireman friend Patrick and his police contacts—do the work and take the risks, it takes another city magnate to quell an anti-immigrant mob and sell the solution. Dams' new series hasn't yet found a happy balance between its politics and its puzzle. Its concept is too rich and potentially consequential for the cozy home she wants to give it. And Hilda herself is just a little too sharp not to cut up the cushions.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802733412
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 5/1/1900
  • Series: Hilda Johansson Series , #2
  • Pages: 189
  • Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Mrs. Clem Studebaker gave a luncheon at her home, Tippecanoe place, Saturday afternoon. There were 27 ladies present and luncheon was served in the dining room. The table decorations were beautiful....

—South Bend Tribune, January 1, 1900, page 1


HILDA, that stifling August evening, was both rushed off her feet and bored out of her mind.

    "Talk, talk, talk," she grumbled to Norah as they whisked back to the butler's pantry for dessert plates. "If they have nothing to say, why do they not remain silent?"

    "You're just grumpy. You always get grumpy when it's hot." Norah sniffed and handed Hilda a stack of plates. "A fine sort of dinner party that'd be, with all of 'em sittin' around sayin' nothin'. Here, them are the Meissen—mind you don't drop 'em!"

    It was a small party, as Tippecanoe Place parties went, easily contained in the family dining room. Only eight couples shared the table with Colonel and Mrs. George Studebaker, nearly all, Hilda knew, connected by business ties with Studebaker Brothers manufacturing.

    It would, in Hilda's opinion, have been much wiser for her employers to work off their business obligations with a larger party. Not that anyone would be interested in the opinions of the housemaid. But she knew just as well as the Studebakers that large dinners allowed for an interesting mix of guests at each table. With only eighteen people sitting around a single table, the possibility for devastating boredom was much greater.

    Thehost and hostess were doing their best. Mrs. George had, with Mrs. Sullivan, the cook, planned an elaborate menu, much of it to be served chilled in deference to the sweltering August weather. She had also taken great care to seat her guests so as to separate those with any of the little animosities business can so easily generate. Now she and Colonel George were trying hard to keep the conversation going, but it was uphill work.

    As Hilda set out the dessert plates, she amused herself by studying the guests. How surprised they would be if they realized how much the unregarded servants knew about them! Mrs. Avery, for example, a frequent guest seated to Colonel George's right, was a flirt and a social climber. Dressed, in her Paris gown and her diamonds, more for a ball than a simple dinner, she was by far the most attractive woman in the room. And she knew it, thought Hilda as she set the fragile plate in front of her. At twenty-five or so she was also by several years the youngest woman present, and seemed determined to conquer every man in the room. No matter what Colonel George or Mr. Coates, her other dinner partner, said to her, she batted her eyelashes and laughed. It was a very feminine, high, tinkly laugh, and Hilda was beginning to be very tired of it.

    Her husband, Mr. Avery, a well-to-do lumber dealer and a much older man, might have been able to keep her quiet, but since the Averys were the principal guests, he was of course seated at the other end of the table, at his hostess's right hand. A pity husbands and wives couldn't sit together, for Mr. Avery knew how to behave at a dinner party. He smiled, he spoke courteously to his hostess and others near him, he was gallant with all the ladies, he even smiled at the servants. He kept up a light banter of conversation, insubstantial perhaps, but pleasant. Hilda knew that Mr. Avery liked money perhaps a little more than he should, but she approved of him.

    Mr. Coates, the attorney seated next to Mrs. Avery, was no use at all. His manner was as dry as the legal documents he dealt with for the Studebakers. He spoke when spoken to, offered a comment or two on the weather, and asked for the salt to be passed. Most of the time he simply chewed his food. Hilda considered Norah's remark. Perhaps she was right, and no talk at all was even worse than silly talk.

    Mrs. Harriman, next to Mr. Coates, was a worthy woman in a steel-gray gown and a steel-boned corset. The wife of another attorney, she sat on charity boards and hospital boards and chaired ladies' societies in aid of one thing and another. She did, in short, all the things Mrs. Avery ought to do if she really wanted to rise in the social scale. But Mrs. Avery was far too frivolous for such boring pursuits, and certainly she would never find them a topic for conversation. Mrs. Harriman talked about them all, discoursing on their achievements and the great needs still to be met, from the oysters, to the vichyssoise and the fish, right through to the jellied chicken and the salad. Perhaps, Hilda speculated, she talked to keep her mind off all the good food she dared not try to stuff into that rigidly corseted body.

    Of Mr. Singler, the banker to Mrs. Harriman's right, Hilda knew little. The Singlers were new in town and had been to dinner only once before, a huge affair for which Hilda's duties had kept her away from the guests. (By rights the head housemaid, Hilda served at table only for the small parties, when outside help was not needed.) From his conversation she gathered that he was a passionate golfer; he could speak only of great courses he had played, of his own strengths and weaknesses, of new equipment he was eager to try.

    All of which Mrs. Harriman steadfastly ignored, while Mrs. Warren, to his right, said such things as "Oh, really? Imagine that. Dear me, is that bad? Oh, good, I see!" and crumbled her dinner roll. She wore a gown Hilda had seen several times before. The pink silk clashed badly with her complexion, and the lace was looking slightly grubby. Hilda considered her to be a poor, mousy excuse for a woman. Of course Mr. Warren, a well-known contractor who had worked often for the Studebakers, was a bully. You had only to look at his wife to know that. But really, why couldn't the woman stick up for herself? If anybody tried to bully her, Hilda ... well, he would be sorry!

    The plates were all in place; Hilda and Norah retired to the background to let Anton, the footman, and Mr. Williams, the butler, serve the charlotte russe. While Hilda waited for her next chore, wishing she could sit down and rest her aching feet, she considered the rest of the party. About Mr. Slick, sitting next to Mrs. Warren, she knew only that he was an engraver who worked extensively with Studebaker's. He and his pretty wife seemed inoffensive enough people. By coincidence or design, Mrs. Slick was sitting next to Mr. Warren on the other side of the table, and did not appear to be enjoying herself very much. Mr. Warren wasn't bullying her, though. He was another of the silent ones, spending his time on his food and ignoring both Mrs. Slick and tall, willowy Mrs. Singler on his other side.

    Hilda didn't know the woman next to Mr. Slick at all, but the last man on that side was a neighbor, Mr. Cushing, whom she knew very well indeed. He and his wife had obviously been invited to help the Studebakers with a rather sticky party; they were old friends who lived in the next block, next door to the house where Hilda's sister, Freya, worked as a maid. Mrs. George had cleverly seated both of them close to her, Mrs. Cushing being just next to Mr. Warren, to help keep conversation going. She would, thought Hilda, have done better to put one of them at the other end of the table, where Colonel George was having a hard time of it.

    He could get nothing but titters out of Mrs. Avery, and Mrs. Singler, on his other side, simply agreed with every remark he made, stopping him dead. Nor were Mrs. Coates or the unknown man—presumably husband to the unknown woman—much help in the middle of that side. Mr. Harriman, between Mrs. Coates and Mrs. Cushing, did laugh at Mrs. Cushing's sallies and Mr. Avery's anecdotes, but contributed almost nothing himself.

    In short, the party was a failure. Hilda shifted from one foot to the other and wished everyone would go home.

    Perhaps Mrs. George felt the same way. At any rate, she was not long in giving the signal to the ladies to retire to the drawing room. That meant that Hilda, too, could withdraw, though it provided her no respite. She still had to help serve coffee and sweets, and the drawing room, up one flight on the main floor, was much hotter than the semi-basement dining room, even with all the windows open to their fullest extent. The ladies brought their fans out of their décolletages and plied them listlessly.

    "Surely the weather will break soon," said Mrs. Cushing, accepting a bonbon from Hilda and declining a cup of coffee from Norah. "It's been a terrible summer for the farmers."

    "The weather has been good for Mr. Warren," commented Mrs. Warren timidly. "He's been able to keep his men working on the new city hall with almost no interruptions."

    "I'm sure that must be a great satisfaction to you," said Mrs. Avery in a high, affected tone, waving both Hilda and Norah away. "Especially as he works right along with them. Such dedication! Now, Mr. Avery is always very careful to keep out of the hot sun, himself. He finds it enervating. He would much rather buy land for others to build on than do the work himself."

    After a nasty second of silence, three women started to talk at once—but not to Mrs. Avery. Women, Hilda had noticed at other parties, didn't much enjoy talking with Mrs. Avery, though they were ready enough to listen to some new piece of gossip. She excelled at gossip, especially the ill-natured variety. Norah caught Hilda's eye and mouthed a silent "meow." Hilda stifled a giggle.

    The men didn't linger long downstairs, perhaps because no port or brandy was served in that teetotal household, and even a cigar loses its savor when one knows that an impatient woman is waiting. Or perhaps it was simply that their conversation was no more interesting after dinner than it had been earlier. At any rate, Hilda had only a few more minutes to stand on her sore feet before the husbands came up the grand staircase in little groups of two and three, nobody saying much.

    They continued to say little over coffee, and at last, at last, men began to nod to their wives and make the little gestures that meant they were ready to leave. Hilda and Norah, more than ready themselves for the evening to end, were released. Norah went down to the kitchen to help with the cleanup, while Hilda hurried upstairs to fetch the light scarves and shawls that the women had worn, not because they were needed, but because one did not go out on the street without a wrap of some sort over one's evening clothes.

    Mr. Williams was ready with the men's top hats. As the couples paired off, gave their flowery thanks to their host and hostess, and prepared to take themselves out the door, Hilda saw Mr. Avery and Mr. Warren pass near each other, getting their hats.

    "Well, Warren, are you ready to sell me that piece of land yet? It's doing you no good, you know."

    "I've told you before, I don't want to sell that land."

    "Oh, but Herbert!" It was Mrs. Avery, suddenly at her husband's side with a pretty pout on her face. "You promised me a country house out there!"

    "You see, Warren? When the ladies take a fancy to something, what's to be done? Oh, well, you'll change your mind sooner or later. Just think about it, that's all I ask. Extra money is very useful, you know. Just think how your lovely wife would look in a new gown. And diamonds, perhaps?"

    He had turned to smile brilliantly at Mrs. Warren, Who smiled back and then recoiled at the black look on her husband's face.

    "Leave my wife out of this, Avery!" Mr. Warren turned his back on Mr. Avery so rapidly that he nearly stepped on the other man's narrow, well-shod feet. He grasped his wife's elbow without a word and steered her, or pushed her, toward the door.

    Hilda watched it all, secure in the knowledge that as a servant she was invisible. She watched the Averys leave, he proud and solicitous of his beautiful wife, she simpering. Mr. Avery was, Hilda thought, the sort of man who would always be charming to women, even unremarkable ones like Mrs. Warren. She watched the Harrimans, little Mr. Harriman following in his wife's wake like a tugboat trailing after an ocean liner.

    Mr. and Mrs. Coates left in the silence they had maintained all night, enveloped in a shell of self-satisfaction. The Slicks hurried off as soon as courtesy permitted, as did the couple Hilda didn't know, both with the air of a duty now fortunately over and done with. The Singlers lingered, hearty and agreeable, lacking the sense to take themselves off until Mr. Williams pointedly handed Mr. Singler his hat and said, "Your carriage is waiting, sir."

    The Cushings stayed for a few minutes to exchange a last word or two with the Studebakers, a chuckle or wry grimace at the way the evening had gone, but at last they, too, stepped out the door, which Mr. Williams would not close and lock until all the guests were out of sight. Nor would he breathe a sigh of relief. Mr. Williams was very well trained.

    Outside in the drive, the last bored coachmen waited to bring carriages up under the porte cochere. They and the horses were ready for home, too.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Americana historical mystery

    Five years ago, Mr. Studebaker went to Sweden to recruit workers for his American factory. Among those to immigrate was Hilda Johansson, who accepted a position as a maid. Her job allows Hilda to observe first hand how society treats foreigners. Though she is well aware of the social inequities in America, Hilda does not believe the anarchists are right in their efforts to destroy the current system. <P>When an anarchist assassinates President McKinley, Hilda and others fear the madness that could grip the working class. Soon a friend of Studebaker and a worker are found dead wrapped inside an American flag. Hilda decides to investigate the deaths especially since she was so successful in solving a homicide last year (see DEATH IN LACQUER RED). She has the added impetus to prove that her friend¿s brother is not part of the anarchist conspiracy that killed the President. Hilda also worries about her sibling who seems to be hiding something from her. With so much on her mind, Hilda does not realize that her inquiries are leading her to something very dangerous. <P>RED, WHITE, AND BLUE MURDER will appeal to fans of amateur sleuth mysteries as well as historical fiction buffs. The thought-provoking tale provides insight into the first few years of the twentieth century as the audience will feel the immigrant experience. Jeanne M. Dams brilliantly weaves the class structure and its impact on behavior inside the who-done-it. With a well executed mystery combined with the atmosphere surrounding the murder of the first twentieth century President, readers have another triumph in one of the better historical mystery series being written today. <P>Harriet Klausner

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