Death Below Stairs
by Jennifer Ashley
#1 Kat Holloway Mystery
Penguine Random House | Berkley
Formats available: Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 1.2.18| 313 pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
Paperback won in a giveaway by reviewer. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
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.
After enjoying the prequel novella, A Soupcon of Poison, that introduced independent, no-nonsense, and superior cook, Kat Holloway, and the more than he seems, man of all work, Daniel McAdam, I was eager to press forward to a full-length story in the series.
Death Below Stairs takes place a few months after the events of the prequel and finds Kat accepting the position of cook in a new household that is not entirely the proper Victorian family it seems from the outside. Within the first twenty-four hours of her employment, Kat encounters the cross-dressing sister to the master’s wife who ran over a man in the street with her carriage, and then Kat is the one to discover the murder of her own kitchen assistant. Kat is unnerved and wants Daniel to come help since she believes the death was not the result of a botched burglary attempt. And, off they go on the hunt.
Daniel and Kat have great chemistry. They both have mystery and secrets in their pasts, though after reading the prequel, Kat’s secrets are all known. Daniel’s remain obscure. He is exactly what he seems in workman’s attire — traipsing round the streets of London finding work here and there and being good at it. However, he is also more. He can also put on gentlemen’s clothes and take on that persona just as well. He has connections to the powers that be and he knows how to conduct an investigation. Because of the betrayal Kat experienced at the hands of a man, she reacted strongly to her attraction to a man of secrets. The secrets are different and Daniel is honest and honorable. She knows this, but she won’t bring herself to trust again so there is a push-pull going on inside her.
The historical backdrop of this story takes on the fascinating below-stairs world of the servant’s hall and kitchen of a fine Victorian establishment. I love that Kat is a cook; there is much about her daily work and life even as she pokes her nose into the mysterious goings on in the houses she works in. Women’s issues in the story — above and below stairs, and how they navigate in a man’s world — are emphasized.
The mystery had some complexity. Was it a tragic personal crime or did it point to something that effected the whole nation? The mystery is the catalyst and takes the forefront a few times in the story, but it also shares the stage with Kat’s own story, whether work, or personal issues. In the end, I was pleased with the mystery though there was one element that I felt was left unexplained. It was a little one since the main part of the mystery and many of the facts and clues are detailed out.
So, all in all, I was well-pleased with this one and look forward to what comes next in the series. Historical Mystery fans should definitely give this new series a look.