Death Below Stairs, by Jennifer Ashley

May 3, 2021 Book Reviews 2 ★★★★

Death Below Stairs, by Jennifer AshleyDeath Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Kat Holloway #1
Published by Berkley on January 2, 2018
Genres: Historical Mystery
Pages: 335
Format: Kindle or ebook
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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four-stars
Also in this series: A Soupçon of Poison
Also by this author: A Soupçon of Poison

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.

Death of a scullery maid, threat to a queen

I’ve had Death Below Stairs on my to-read list since before it came out in 2018, thanks to advance publicity on sites like NetGalley. It appeared so totally up my alley: a cozy historical mystery series set in Victorian era London, starring a young cook as the heroine and amateur detective. How could I fail to enjoy it? I was stoked. And then…

Time passed and I never got around to it. Fellow bloggers read it and wrote glowing reviews. I would say to myself, “Oh, I need to read that!” and promptly get distracted by other books.

Until this spring, when Death Below Stairs garnered the most votes for the COYER Book Club in April. Finally, I had the push to actually move the book to the top of my reading list, and to sit down and actually READ it. And once I started, I read it in two gulps. (I would have read it in one sitting, but at 2:30 a.m., knowing that I was not going to be happy when the alarm went off, I did the sensible thing and went to sleep, leaving Daniel and Kat to search for… well, you’ll have to read it to find out what they were searching for.)

Death Below Stairs is everything I had hoped for it: an entertaining mystery, peopled by engaging characters and peppered with enough details to immerse me in the world of below- and above-stairs Victorian London. And the food porn, OMG! I spent the whole book wishing I could taste Kat’s cooking, or at least indulge in scones slathered in clotted cream.*

The novel manages to squeeze in quite a lot, beginning with the unfortunate proclivities of the master of the house, Lord Rankin (who apparently takes his pleasure of the maids, willing or not), and continuing with the murder of Kat Holloway’s young assistant, an ongoing investigation in which Kat’s mysterious friend Daniel is heavily involved, and an imminent threat to Her Majesty herself. Kat narrates the tale, and it soon becomes clear that she has many of the characteristics of a good detective: intelligence, determination, and a strong sense of justice chief among them. She also has a gift for reasoning and spotting inconsistencies, a talent for cooking, a secret, and a very good reason to guard her heart.

Daniel is fascinating, both to Kat and to the reader. Handsome and very charming when he wants to be, Daniel is a social chameleon: he can play a common laborer, a delivery wagon driver, or a gentleman with equal ease, and without arousing suspicion. He appears absolutely smitten with Kat, who for her part is attracted, but distinctly cautious. She is more at ease with Daniel’s son James, a cheerful, cheeky youngster as at home on the streets as Daniel himself.

Lady Cynthia rounds out the important secondary characters involved in the case. The sister of Lord Rankin’s ethereal wife, Lady Cynthia is an “eccentric,” dressing in men’s clothing for the freedom it affords her, and defying convention as much as she dares. I like her, and was pleased to hear from another member of the book club that she appears in subsequent books, as do Daniel and James.

We (the book club members) speculated quite a bit as to who and what Daniel really is. There are some clues in this book and in the prequel, but I have a feeling we will be left wondering for several books to come—for I surely intend to continue reading Kat’s adventures.

I’ve given Death Below Stairs four stars rather than five, mostly because I save 5-star ratings for books that are truly exceptional in some way, or books I have loved and reread many times, but also because the pacing falters slightly from time to time, and it felt a little as though the author was writing two books at once. I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless, and eagerly look forward to reading the next book in the series.

*Clotted cream isn’t as disgusting as it sounds; in fact, it’s delicious. It has the richness of whipped cream without the airiness. Think something halfway between cream and unsalted butter.

four-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Seasons 2021: Spring
  • The Backlist Reader Challenge 2021

2 Responses to “Death Below Stairs, by Jennifer Ashley”

  1. Katherine

    Oh I’m so glad you enjoyed this! This is one of my favorite series and one of the few I’m actually caught up on (though I need to get the newest one to keep that true). And yes I love clotted cream! There was a Barbara Michaels were the main character basically ate her weight in clotted cream and that made me go on a search for it.

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