Review: Death Below Stairs – Jennifer Ashley

Review: Death Below Stairs – Jennifer AshleyDeath Below Stairs
by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Kat Holloway Mysteries #1
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 336
Source: First to Read

I received an advance review copy of this book from First to Read. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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.

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A mystery starring a Victorian cook?  Please, ma’am, can I have some more?

“You are in the middle of things, ensconced in your kitchen like a goddess on her throne. You see all, hear all, speak to everyone. People bring their troubles to you.”
This is the first in the author’s new Kat Holloway series, but there is a prequel novella that covers a previous case involving Kat, Daniel, and his son, James.  I actually stopped a few chapters in and went and bought the prequel novella, because it just felt like there was too much backstory between Kat and Daniel.  Could you read this without reading the novella?  Probably, as Kat reminisces a bit about it, but it bugged me too much. Kat has just taken a new position in Lord Rankin’s household, and it’s less than 24 hours after she arrives that she finds the cook’s maid, Sinead, dead in the pantry.  It could just be that she had the misfortune to interrupt a burglar… or is it something more sinister?

Well, of course, it’s something more sinister, or it’d be another novella!  While the beginning is a bit slow, and it bogs down in the middle, the pace picks up quite a bit towards the end.  I did find the plot to be… farfetched, to say the least… but I enjoyed every minute reading it.  Without going too deep into spoilers, I was disappointed that the two main mystery plots turned out to be not as related as the characters thought, and one of them is wrapped up at the end of the book almost like an afterthought, and completely out of left field.  I think it was necessary to get Kat involved, but I wish there were more clues to that mystery, since I don’t think I missed any.

I absolutely loved Kat!  She was no-nonsense but still kind, and I liked that Kat was solidly working class instead of your typical historical lord or lady detective.  She’s had a rough time at life, but at the same time realizes how lucky she is that she’s been able to make a career that can support herself and her daughter, Grace.  The subplot with Grace was absolutely heart wrenching, and I definitely felt for Kat, given her strength and ability to soldier on.  I do think it took some suspension of disbelief to accept that Kat could just take off to go searching around the country without any repercussions.
“What I do know, Daniel, is what you are. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a gent in a posh suit who can purchase first-class railway tickets on the spur of the moment, or a deliveryman who talks like a South London villain. I’ve seen you.”
While this is a mystery, there’s also a strong romantic plot that continues from the novella.  Daniel, oh Daniel!  He’s lovely and so obviously deeply in love with Kat.  But Daniel is a bit of a chameleon, and it’s hard to tell which face he’s showing Kat is really his own. Kat accepts, eventually, that Daniel can’t tell her who he is without putting her in danger.  Is he some sort of Victorian MI-6 agent?  A Bow Street Runner?  Regardless, the tension between Kat and Daniel kept me reading.  Besides Daniel, there are lots of other interesting characters: Lady Cynthia, Mr. Elgin, and Daniel’s son, James.

I’m very much looking forward to the next book that comes out in July!  Recommended for anyone looking for a cozy historical mystery with a heaping spoonful of romance!
Daniel continued to regard me in vexation; then he put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a swift kiss on the lips before he released me and strode out of the room without another word.
I lifted my cup again, my hand shaking. “Daft man,” I muttered as I tried to catch my breath. “He nearly spilled my tea.”

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