Is it possible to give a book seven stars out of five? I would give Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS seven stars out of five, if I could. So let’s say that I have. Good? Good. Now let me tell you why…
I think I’d read six percent (I’d happily received an eBook ARC) when I liked it enough to peek at it on Goodreads. Let me tell you, I was thrilled (thrilled!) to see there will be a sequel this summer. That’s a lot of investment from me that early on in a book, but you do what a book tells you to do. And this book made me want more of this world, of these characters, of Jennifer Ashley’s writing, and of the things that happened here.
DEATH BELOW STAIRS drops immediately into 1881 London (a definite hook for the historical fiction addict that I am) and I found myself meeting Mrs. Holloway as she starts a new job as a cook in one of the fancy Victorian houses that so much historical fiction likes to focus on. Mrs. Holloway, who is only about thirty years old and uses the idea of missus with some liberty, finds herself employed by Lord and Lady Rankin. They are minor characters in the story, hardly ever part of the action, but they are compelling. As are Mrs. Bowen and Mr. Davis, the housekeeper and butler of the Rankin house. The cast is rounded out by Sinead – a kitchen maid, James – a boy at home in the streets, Lady Cynthia – the unmarried sister of Lady Rankin, and Daniel McAdam – the mysterious man and father to James, who shares some history with Mrs. Holloway.
I adore them all. Absolutely adore them. They are, all of them, interesting and complex and fun.
It’s obvious that Daniel, who exists as easily as a wealthy man-about-town as he does a day laborer who hires himself out for menial chores and sleeps above stables, has something like love for Kat. (Kat is Mrs. Holloway, though only Daniel calls her that… and never in front of anyone else.) He might not be willing to admit it, but it’s there. And his hesitancy makes it all the more perfect.
I never watched Downton Abbey and my other experience with Upstairs-Downstairs dynamics in fiction is limited. But this? This murder mystery spin on that is something that works incredibly well.
I never guessed who might have killed the victim, why anyone might have killed the victim, or even how the murder would be solved. Even a murder in the Rankin house took on a whole different look under the wider scope of the Fenians, Queen Victoria, and openness and equality in Victorian England.
It’s Lady Cynthia who fascinates me, as much as I do the not-yet-couple that is Kat and Daniel, because it is Lady Cynthia who really bridges both worlds best. She can do it, she has to do it, because she doesn’t fit in either world. Not as she like to be accepted. (I may have cheered aloud when Mr. Thanos declared her beautiful and fascinating… and they may be one of the best reasons to read the sequel.)
I didn’t expect such breathless and yet balanced suspense and drama and action from this book. Maybe because I expect the Victorians to be stuffy and dull or maybe because I expected it to have more romance. I am very happy to have been proven wrong and I am sorry (and also not sorry, because how else would I be so surprised?) for it.
The story ends with sadness, which is essentially how it began, but it seems as though the message is that sadness gives way to a chance at hope and happiness. It’s awfully poetic and nice. And though there is a sequel to be released this summer, the main plot lines of this story are fully wrapped up. There is no cliffhanger and this book could stand alone easily (and I’m tempted to skip the sequel and let it, because I’m afraid nothing can be this good!).
I read it too fast and it was over too soon but I love this book. It comes out January 2, 2018 and I’m going to buy it. I hope you will too!
I received a copy of DEATH BELOW STAIRS through NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own & my review is cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.