Guest Review: A Gem Of A Problem – Irene Sauman

Brenda says this is a wonderful historical mystery.


A Gem of a Problem

Irene Sauman

Jakada Books

ISBN: 9780994503114



It is the 1870s in Australia, at the height of the Murray River paddle steamer trade. Emma Berry is back at her family’s pastoral property, Wirramilla, recovering from the accidental sinking of the paddle steamer Mary B, in which her husband, Sam drowned.

Major Barnaby of Honey Hills is demanding the return of a mysterious package he claims Sam was carrying for him, and which was apparently lost in the accident. What was the Major’s agenda that he is now threatening false charges of theft and smuggling if the item is not returned? Her brother-in-law, Daniel, co-owner with Emma of the Mary B, is blaming her for everything.

She must find the package before the Major’s wife returns from London. Her search leads her up and down the river and across country. Not everyone she encounters is welcoming, while some pay her more attention than she cares for. She must apply the sleuthing techniques gleaned from her readings of fictional detective Mrs Paschal, and insights into human nature from Anthony Trollope to aid her search.

And then there’s the matter of getting the Mary B back on the river. The solution she comes up with gives Daniel something else to hold over her.


Brenda’s Review:

With the sudden death of her husband Sam Berry when their paddle steamer, the Mary B, foundered and sank in April 1875, and the subsequent loss of her unborn child, Emma was now living back at home with her parents on the family property of Wirramilla in Victoria while she recuperated and came to terms with her loss. The day Major Barnaby arrived at the property, accusing Emma of deception and theft, was the day her life changed irrevocably.

Daniel, Emma’s brother in law and co-owner of the Mary B, blamed Emma for the trouble that Major Barnaby was accusing her of – it seemed it was up to Emma to find this mysterious package before the Major caused the family to lose everything. His threats were terrifyingly real – could Emma find the answers she desperately needed?

As Emma travelled to Echuca via steamer, she realised in her musings that the Murray River was the busiest she had ever seen it. The paddle steamer trade in 1870s Australia was a flourishing business – all the more reason for them to have the repairs to the Mary B completed so it could earn its keep once again. But as Emma travelled up and down the river, then across the country by train, she encountered some strange and not so welcoming people. Was she in danger? She knew she had to find the package; it was vital…

A Gem of a Problem by Aussie author Irene Sauman is a wonderful historical mystery which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was also delighted to find it’s the first in the Emma Berry series; I’m keen to read the second when it is published. I loved the quiet and sometimes dangerous travel on the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, surrounded by the birds and bush. The non-stop vigilance of the steamer crew as they searched for the many submerged sandbanks and tree stumps along the way. Emma is a strong young woman trying to find her way in a man’s world – her ongoing story will be a good one. I have no hesitation in recommending A Gem of a Problem highly. A well-deserved 5 stars.


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