Review – Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

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.

Click on titles below for direct Amazon buy link:                      Death Below Stairs (A Below Stairs Mystery)
A Soupçon of Poison: prequel novella

My Review:               

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

As DEATH BELOW STAIRS opens, Mrs. Kat Holloway has just accepted the position of cook in the household of Lady Rankin.  She meets the other staff members and appears to ease seamlessly into her new job.  Any thoughts she may have had about a tranquil existence are quickly shattered, as her young assistant, Sinead, is found murdered the very next day.  The volatile Lord Rankin threatens to sack her, and the household is in chaos.  Onto the scene, comes Daniel McAdam, a mysterious man who has a history with Kat.

Daniel is a chameleon – he can take on the guise of a lowly servant, as well as a finely dressed gentleman.  He is fond of Kat, and we learn through her recollections that they have shared a kiss or two, though she has been unable to get a straight answer from him as to who exactly he works for.  He does advise Kat that there are suspicions about the new household she’s working in, and he advises her to take caution as she may be in danger.

Kat is a no-nonsense type of woman, though she has a kind nature.  She is abrupt with Daniel, but it’s apparent she has a definite soft spot for him.  Kat learned some bitter lessons from her deceased husband, and she’s leery of romantic relationships.  She has a young daughter, Grace, who lives with two good friends while Kat works to support her.  Daniel also has a child, a son James, who appears to have inherited his father’s cleverness and charm.

It’s soon revealed that the murder of Sinead is only a small part of a much larger plot, one that ambitiously seeks to assassinate Queen Victoria.  At this point, the reader has to just go with the flow of this entertaining story, and not expect that it resembles reality.  It’s very unlikely that a newly hired cook would have the latitude to leave her position in order to run out whenever the need arises, in order to meet Daniel or to take part in some aspect of investigating this treasonous plot.  It’s even more unlikely that she could take off for longer than a day, and have Daniel install a temporary cook in her place.

I very much enjoyed DEATH BELOW STAIRS, and its main characters.  Daniel has the type of charm that is genuine, and he is obviously fond of Kat, and is a very capable man.  Kat is cautious and good hearted, and a dedicated parent.  While the romance takes a backseat to the mystery, it is definitely there at a slow simmer.  The story is all told in first person, and Kat’s point of view often includes an inordinate amount of information about food and its preparation.  While Kat’s thoughts fill in some of the puzzle pieces of her past with Daniel, I still felt that I should have more information.  I later found out that there is a novella prequel to this story, titled A SOUPCON OF POISON, which I intend to read.  The writing of DEATH BELOW STAIRS felt very different from the Jennifer Ashley historical romances, though equally as captivating.  If you enjoy a well written and entertaining mystery with a touch of romance, I recommend DEATH BELOW STAIRS, but I strongly urge reading the prequel first.  ~Rose


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