Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Death Below Stairs

Title:  Death Below Stairs
Author:  Jennifer Ashley
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399585516/978-0399585517

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I had not been long at my post in Mount Street, Mayfair when my employer's sister came to some calamity."

Favorite Quote:  "I was an arrogant woman, telling others about the moral virtue of hard work, when I only performed it for one end - the well-being of my daughter. Without that to drive me, what I did was empty."

A death amongst your staff is not an auspicious beginning to a new job. Yet, that is exactly what happens to Kat Holloway. A murder no less. A young maid is found dead in the pantry shortly after Kat takes a job as the cook for the household of Lord Rankin in Victorian London. Is it a romance gone bad? Is the murderer a member of the household? Is it a mystery that extends beyond Lord Rankin's household? No matter what the reason, Kat feels responsible for the young woman, and so begins the adventure to solve a murder.

The mystery of this book has all the makings of a political espionage novel, set in a very proper English nobility setting of course. What starts as the death of a maid leads all the way to a plot against Queen Victoria herself. The royalty, however, does not quite make an appearance in this book; the book remains clearly focused on the main characters.

This book reminds me somewhat of Deanne Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell mysteries. The English setting, the strong female lead, the connection to royalty, and the relationship between Kat Holloway and Daniel McAdam all create a similar reading experience. Death Below Stairs is the first in a new series; however, the book clearly implies a back story for both characters in a ways that makes them more rounded characters.

Kat Holloway's back story is developed more than Daniel McAdam's. He remains a mystery which I am sure will be explored in subsequent books. The nature and origin of their relationship is also not yet explained; that too may come in subsequent books. I believe there is a prequel that may provide some of that background. I have not read it, and it really does not impact my enjoyment of the book. At the moment, it is sweet enough and mysterious enough to make me say I would like to know more.

What makes this book for me is the characters. Kat Holloway, by profession, is a cook and a good one. She is well composed, articulate, strong, and independent. Best of all, she is not afraid to speak her mind and takes no nonsense from anyone - her employer, her staff, or her friends. On the other hand, the book also develops a non-romantic storyline which bring our her worries and her vulnerabilities. This makes her all the more likable.

Daniel McAdam is the handsome but mysterious hero. He seems to be chameleon-like, fitting in to whatever role he takes on at a particular moment. He fits in with equal ease all the ranks of this Victorian society. He seems knowledgeable about a vast array of topics and professions. How and why remains to be told in subsequent books. He seems almost perfect, but it works especially paired with Kat. They are a good match.

Even the household of Lord Rankin is not without its cast of characters. They are all developed with a skilled hand to play a role - sometimes surprising - in this mystery. That is what keeps the mystery a mystery until the very end. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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