Death Below Stairs (Below Stairs)
by Jennifer Ashley
Cover Artist: Woman on stairs by Elisebeth Ansley / Trevillion;
Wallpaper by Reinhold Leitner / Shutterstock
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780399585517
Date: 02 January 2018 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Kat Holloway is a much sought-after cook with sterling references. She's just started a new position in the Mayfair mansion of Lord and Lady Rankin. The family seems a bit eccentric. Lady Rankin is frail. Lord Rankin is picky about mealtimes. Lady Cynthia, Lady Rankin's sister, prefers to dress in male clothing. But they agreed to Kat's conditions for time-off and pay so she's settling in.
The young Irish girl assigned to assist her wants to be called Sinead. That's too fancy a name for a kitchen helper so she's been renamed, Ellen. The year is 1881 during the reign of Queen Victoria and that should give you a good idea of the status of women and the politics that make up the background setting for this story.
When Lord Rankin sends down a request for Sinead to bring him his coffee, the rest of the staff appears nervous. Kat assumes that he intends to toy with the girl so she takes the coffee up herself. In his suite, she notices Daniel McAdams standing in the shadows. Daniel is a man she knows as a jack-of-all-trades and is surprised to see him dressed and acting as a member of the upper class. He was not introduced and seemed to be a guest of Lord Rankin that he didn't want anyone to know about. So, why had he asked for Sinead?
In the morning, Kat finds Sinead's body. The house is in an uproar with a murder below stairs. Kat had seen Sinead before she went up to her room and was tempted to keep her company until she finished with the linen count. So she blames herself. The police feel it was a simple burglary which clears the case without actually doing anything to find the true culprit.
Kat decides to investigate herself. Then Daniel shows up, having been hired as a handyman, and she finds an ally for her investigation. It seems that there's more to Sinead than had first appeared. Sinead knew things and gathered secrets and just might have known something that was just too dangerous to know. A scrap of paper with seemingly random numbers just might be the clue they need.
The time period feels incredibly real. The life problems and situations of the servants are not different from those of the upper class except in the lack of funds to ameliorate the impact on their lives. The plight of women comes to the fore with the problems faced by Kat and Lady Cynthia.
The plotting is tightly woven with enough twists and misdirection to keep the pages turning. The characters are well-developed and all people are of their time period and acting accordingly. There are several side plots that will possibly be dealt with in future novels. I really hope there will be more Kat Holloway stories.
From: Jonni Rich:
Good review. A book I will definitely read.