Death Below Stairs
Below Stairs Mystery, Book #1
By Jennifer Ashley
Author’s website: www.katholloway.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Victorian class lines are crossed when cook Kat Holloway is drawn into a murder that reaches all the way to the throne.
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. (Goodreads)
Death Below Stairs offers a fine beginning for the Below Stairs Mystery series. Full of Victorian intrigue, upstairs/downstairs drama, and a touch of romance, it is sure to please mystery and historical fiction fans alike.
The novel follows cook Kat Holloway as she begins employment at Mayfair Mansion. Lord Rankin, his wan wife Lady Emily, and her eccentric trouser wearing sister Lady Cynthia make for interesting employers, and the downstairs staff is welcoming and agreeable. When maid Sinead is found murdered in the pantry, Kat, with the help of “jack of all trades” Daniel McAdam, sets out to unmask the killer and find themselves part of bigger machinations that threaten the monarchy. In addition to the murder and political threat, Kat faces a personal crisis, too.
I really like the upstairs/downstairs aspect of this series. It is most enjoyable to read about the inner workings of a Victorian aristocrat’s home. There is a lot going on within the pages, perhaps a little too much. Once the political intrigue gets underway, which does indeed lead Kat and crew on a suspenseful adventure, the murder plot falls by the wayside. Its resolution feels tacked on at the end as an afterthought. The subplot concerning Kat’s daughter feels like an unnecessary distraction. And, there is no way Kat would have the time or opportunity to do all of the investigating and traveling that she does and keep her job.
I like Kat. She is clever and displays a no-nonsense attitude as she investigates. Daniel McAdam’s character is quite mysterious, and my favorite part of the tale. I had the best time trying to figure out who the “real” Daniel is. Lady Cynthia is a woman ahead of her time, and her unorthodox lifestyle and personality are a breath of fresh air. Daniel’s colleague Elgin provides some much needed light-hearted moments to an otherwise serious story. Mrs. Bowen, the housekeeper, and Mr. Davis, the butler, add color and variety to an ensemble of personalities. Unfortunately, I do not feel much sympathy for victim Sinead, and I do not really understand why Ashley chose to muck her up with several names.
Overall, Death Below Stairs is an enjoyable romp across England, and I look forward to getting to know Kat and Daniel better in future installments. There is potential here to be a great series.