Turn-of-the-last-century Hilda Johansson, amateur sleuth and curfew-breaking, bend-the-Victorian rules housemaid for the well-to-do Studebaker family in South Bend, Indiana (Green Grow the Victims, 2001, etc.), is as perturbed at the reappearance of her young brother Erik’s friend Fritz Schlager as she had been at his disappearance. After running off to join the circus, Fritz has returned shattered from abuse at the hands of the paterfamilias of the trapeze troupe the Stupendous Shaws. Unfortunately, the circus has pulled up stakes and moved on before he can be charged. But when Hilda and her beau Patrick take Erik to another visiting circus, who should they see but the alleged demon himself? Erik runs after him, and that’s the last that’s seen of Erik. Now Hilda has to explain to her nerve-racked mother that she’s lost her baby brother, who may have come to the same fate as yet another young lad killed on the circus grounds. The search party includes Hilda’s aspiring admirer Sergeant Wright, but it’s Patrick who finds Erik, hears his eyewitness account of murder, and, with the help of the brave youngster and Patrick’s own true love, sets a trap that reels in the real culprit.
Acute glimpses of anti-Catholicism, upstairs/downstairs class distinctions, wardrobe upkeep, Swedish family dinners, hobo codes of honor, and the romantic touch, circa 1903. Dams’s more heavy-handed historical brethren would do well to emulate her light touch.