Monday, November 13, 2017

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

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 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 tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Death Below Stairs is the first book in a mystery series set in Victorian England. Main character Mrs. Kat Holloway is young (29) but already an established and well regarded Cook. Although, like all cooks of her station, she is called Mrs., she is in fact not only single but has a 10-year-old daughter born of a relationship that turned out not to be legitimate. Kat’s main reason for being is providing for her child, who lives with friends.

Being single, however, leaves Kat open to an undefined relationship with the mysterious Daniel McAdam, a master of disguises working as a detective? for the police? Kat doesn’t know and Daniel can’t tell her, but she trusts him all the same.

Death Below Stairs is competently written, with likable characters and room for growth. The characters are very modern in behavior, so this book may not be for those readers who want historically accurate historical fiction and characters who behave true to the times. Kat spends way too much time out of her kitchen – it is hard to imagine her keeping her position no matter how good a cook she is.

The language is very modern. For example, Kat thinks, “I next tackled Mr. Davis; metaphorically, of course.” The author skirted (ha) around two women who dress as men, one clearly a lesbian, but this never becomes important to the plot. One murder was resolved in a very unoriginal way, but the other plot line was interesting.

 All the bits about the food Kat makes and serves did ring true and according to an author note were taken from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, first published in 1861.

Although billed as a first in a series, I felt I was missing something as I read Death Below Stairs; it turns out there is a long short story/novella that introduced the main character. Unfortunately, A Soup├žon of Poison is only available as an ebook and is not available for purchase by libraries.

If you enjoy historical fiction and don’t worry too much about historical accuracy, you may want to read Death Below Stairs. It’s a fun read and the series has a lot of potential.

I read an advance reader copy of Death Below Stairs. It will be published in January 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.