In 1890s Portland, a seamstress and her journalist friend (Murder at the Portland Variety, not reviewed) team up for their second sleuthing adventure.
Libby Seale is working at the household of wealthy paper-mill owner Hiram Rose, his pregnant sister Eva and her husband, Augustus Fowler, when reporter Peter Eberle delivers the news that a body thought to be Hiram’s has been found mangled in a machine at the mill. Though Hiram has made many enemies by firing almost his entire workforce and replacing his employees with cheap Chinese labor, the victim turns out to be Matt Karlsson, a young man who did odd jobs for the Rose family. The police arrest his brother Dutch on the assumption that he was Matt’s accomplice in a murder plot gone wrong. Dissenting, Libby and Peter get busy digging up all the background they can find on Matt while giving Half-Cent, a budding young newshound, the job of following Hiram. But Half-Cent is badly injured by a boulder in a third attempt to kill Hiram. On the home front, Peter wants to marry Libby, who’s run off from her abusive husband, but her deeply ingrained Jewish faith will not allow her to seek a civil divorce. Fortunately, the crime proves easier to solve.
Zellnik’s second look at life in turn-of-the-century Portland provides historical interest along with strong characters and a solid mystery.