Stevie‘s review of Death Below Stairs (A Below Stairs Mystery, Book 1) by Jennifer Ashley
Historical Mystery published by Berkley 02 Jan 18
I keep telling myself that I need to read more of Jennifer Ashley’s historical novels, and this first book in her new series looked like an ideal starting point. There is a prequel novella out there, as I realised after I picked up the novel, but reading that isn’t necessary to follow the happenings in this story. Set in late-Victorian London, the novel follows a cook, Kat Holloway, as she takes up a new position in a Baron’s household, only to find that her new employers and their staff are hiding any number of secrets which put not only themselves but also Kat and her friends at risk from a number of nefarious characters.
The first major indication to Kat that this is a rather unusual household, although she already has her suspicions, is when she meets her employer’s sister – dressed up as a well-to-do man about town. Apparently this is normal practice for Lady Cynthia; although her brother-in-law disapproves, her sister seems to regard the behaviour as a charming eccentricity. The situation becomes more complicated, when Lady Cynthia runs down a workman in her carriage. He is brought into the house to recuperate overnight, but the next morning, he has vanished, and Kat’s young assistant is found lying dead in the pantry.
Having encountered her good friend, and man of mystery, Daniel McAdam, speaking with the man of the house, Kat turns to him for help in discovering why her assistant has been killed – it seems unlikely, given the circumstances, that the girl simply disturbed a casual intruder, intent on stealing the family silver – and soon the pair of them, along with Lady Cynthia and Daniel’s teenage son, are deeply embroiled in trying to prevent a Fenian plot, armed only with a scrap of paper found near where the dead girl was lying. Whether the girl’s death is directly linked to the plot or not, however, is another matter entirely…
I utterly adored this book. It was full of details and explanations of life below stairs, and particularly the duties and tasks of a cook, in an aristocratic townhouse. Kat’s narrative voice was such that none of the details felt like we were being bombarded with information; she simply went about her day describing everything in detail as if keeping track of what she had done in order to write up these experiences in her notebook later: cooks and housekeepers are well known for having recorded their work in order to ensure that the house and kitchens run at utmost efficiency. We also learned much of Kat’s backstory through little asides made as she observed the other members of the household and through her interactions with Daniel – with whom she has a particularly complex relationship – and with her other friends. Kat makes a fine amateur sleuth, and I’m planning on reading the prequel very soon, while waiting to get my hands on the next novel in the series. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys mysteries, or the history of food and cookery.
Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.
Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.
Read an excerpt.