Review by Jenny Q
Given the popularity of contemporary food-themed mystery series, it’s about time someone brought that trend to historical fiction. As a big fan of Jennifer Ashley’s MacKenzie & McBrides historical romance series, I had high hopes for Death Below Stairs, and I was not disappointed!
I do recommend you begin with the novella that kicks this series off, A Soupçon of Poison. Originally written as a stand-alone for a historical mystery anthology, it perfectly introduces our heroine, London chef Kat Holloway, and her love interest, the mysterious and charming Daniel McAdam. Though the mystery is rather mediocre, this novella does an excellent job at establishing Kat’s history and the romantic tension and definitely enhances the undercurrents in Death Below Stairs.
Kat Holloway may be new to Lord Rankin’s staff, but she is the queen of her kitchen and all who enter it, and when her pretty, young assistant is taken advantage of, Kat vows to prevent it from happening again. But before she has the chance, her assistant is found dead. Saddened at the senseless loss of life and naturally curious by nature, with a noble conscience and a can-do attitude, Kat is immediately drawn into the mystery and determines to do all she can to help find the killer. Alongside Daniel, she finds help in unexpected places and eventually becomes part of a mystery-solving crew, discovering that the murder of a housemaid was just the tip of the iceberg in a far-reaching plot to commit the ultimate act of revolution. A dangerous journey ensues and ends in a heart-pounding climactic scene. There’s a hearty dose of history, including Irish terrorism and engineering disasters, and also a very emotional subplot involving Kat’s young daughter. Kat’s position allows us a wonderful glimpse into a Victorian kitchen and the hierarchy of servants and the lower societal classes, and that really sets this series apart.
But it’s not completely perfect. There’s a bit of repetition as Kat evaluates clues and her feelings for Daniel, and as he repeatedly tells her one day he’ll bare his soul to her, but not today; and while I was kept guessing till the end, once revealed, I found the murderer’s motives a bit underdeveloped. But I’m a sucker for a good romance, I love the unconventional characters and the setting within the working class of Victorian London, and the luscious food descriptions were the icing on the cake. It’s a smart mystery and a deliciously exciting read! I’m looking forward to the next book this summer, Scandal Above Stairs.
Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, January 2018
Time and Setting: Victorian England
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Mystery
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.