Death Below Stairs

Death Below Stairs

by Jennifer Ashley

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399585524
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/02/2018
Series: Below Stairs Mystery Series , #1
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 13,995
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jennifer Ashley is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Death Below Stairs; the Shifters Unbound paranormal romances, including Red Wolf and Guardian’s Mate; and the Mackenzies historical romances, including The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie and The Stolen Mackenzie Bride. Winner of a Romance Writers of America RITA Award, she also writes as USA Today bestselling mystery author Ashley Gardner. She lives in the Southwest with her husband and cats, and spends most of her time in the wonderful worlds of her stories.

Read an Excerpt


London, March 1881

I had not been long at my post in Mount Street, Mayfair, when my employer's sister came to some calamity.

I must say I was not shocked that such a thing happened, because when a woman takes on the dress and bad habits of a man, she cannot be surprised at the disapprobation of others when she is found out. Lady Cynthia's difficulties, however, turned out to be only the beginning of a vast tangle and a long, dangerous business.

But I am ahead of myself. I am a cook, one of the finest in London if I do say it, and also one of the youngest to be made head cook in a lavish household. I worked some time in the winter at a house in Richmond, and it was a good position, but the family desired to sell up and move to the Lake District, and I was loath to leave the environs of London for my own rather private reasons.

Back went my name on the books, and the agency at last wrote to my new lodgings in Tottenham Court Road to say they had found a place that might suit. Taking their letter with me, I went along to the house of one Lord Rankin in Mount Street, descending from the omnibus at South Audley Street and walking the rest of the way.

I expected to speak to the housekeeper, but upon arrival, the butler, a tall, handsome specimen who rather preened himself, took me up the stairs to meet the lady of the house in her small study.

She was Lady Rankin, wife of the prodigiously wealthy baron who owned this abode. The baron's wealth came not from the fact that he was an aristocrat, the butler, Mr. Davis, had already confided in me-the estate had been nearly bankrupt when Lord Rankin had inherited it. Rather, Lord Rankin was a deft dabbler in the City and had earned money by wise investment long before the cousin who'd held the title had died, conveniently childless.

When I first beheld Lady Rankin, I was surprised she'd asked for me, because she seemed too frail to hold up her head, let alone conduct an interview with a new cook.

"Mrs. Holloway, ma'am," Mr. Davis said. He ushered me in, bowed, and withdrew.

The study in which I found myself was small and overtly feminine. The walls were covered in yellow moiré; the curtains at the windows were white lace. Framed mirrors and paintings of gardens and picturesque country lanes adorned the walls. A delicate, gilt-legged table from the last century reposed in the middle of the room, with an equally graceful chair behind it. A scroll-backed chaise covered with shawls sat near the desk.

Lady Rankin was in the act of rising from the chaise as we entered, as though she had grown weary waiting for me and retired to it. She moved listlessly to the chair behind her desk, sat upon it, and pulled a paper in front of her with a languid hand.

"Mrs. Holloway?" she asked.

Mr. Davis had just announced me, so there was no doubt who I was, but I nodded. Lady Rankin looked me over. I remained standing in the exact center of the carpet in my second-best frock, a brown wool jacket buttoned to my throat, and my second-best hat of light brown straw perching on my thick coil of dark hair.

Lady Rankin's garment was white, filmy, and high necked, its bodice lined with seed pearls. Her hair was pale gold, her cheeks thin and bloodless. She could hardly be thirty summers, but rather than being childlike, she was ethereal, as though a gust of wind could puff her away.

She glanced at whatever paper was in front of her-presumably a letter from my agency-and then over the desk at me. Her eyes were a very light blue and, in contrast to her angel-like appearance, were rather hard.

"You are very young," she observed. Her voice was light, as thin as her bones.

"I am nearly thirty," I answered stiffly.

When a person thought of a cook, they pictured an older woman who was either a shrew in the kitchen or kindhearted and a bit slow. The truth was that cooks came in all ages, shapes, and temperaments. I happened to be nine and twenty, plump and brown haired, and kind enough, I hoped, but I brooked no nonsense.

"I meant for a cook," Lady Rankin said. "Our last cook was nearly eighty. She is . . . gone. Living with her daughter." She added the last quickly, as though fearing I'd take gone to mean to heaven.

I had no idea how Lady Rankin wished me to answer this information, so I said, "I assure you, my lady, I have been quite well trained."

"Yes." Lady Rankin lifted the letter. The single page seemed too heavy for her, so she let it fall. "The agency sings your praises, as do your references. Well, you will find this an easy place. Charles-Lord Rankin-wishes his supper on the table when he arrives home from the City at eight. Davis will tell you his lordship's favorite dishes. There will be three at table this evening, Lord Rankin, myself, and my . . . sister."

Her thin lip curled the slightest bit as she pronounced this last. I thought nothing of it at the time and only gave her another nod.

Lady Rankin slumped back into her chair as though the speech had taken the last of her strength. She waved a limp hand at me. "Go on, then. Davis and Mrs. Bowen will explain things to you."

I curtsied politely and took my leave. I wondered if I shouldn't summon Lady Rankin's maid to assist her to bed but left the room before I did anything so presumptuous.

The kitchen below was to my liking. It was nowhere near as modern and large as the one I'd left in Richmond, but I found it comfortable and what I was used to.

This house was a double town house-that is, instead of having a staircase hall on one side and all the rooms on the other, it had rooms on both sides of a middle hall. Possibly two houses had been purchased and knocked into one at some time and the second staircase walled off for use by the staff.

Below stairs, we had a large servants' hall, which lay across a passage from the kitchen. In the servants' hall was a long table where the staff could take meals as well as a row of bells that would ring when someone above stairs pulled a cord to summon the servant he or she wished. Along the passage from the kitchen and servants' hall was a larder, and beyond that a laundry room, and then a room for folding clean linens, the housekeeper's parlor, and the butler's pantry, which included the wine cellar. Mr. Davis showed me over each, as proud as though he owned the house himself.

The kitchen was a wide, square room with windows that gave onto the street above. Two dressers full of dishes lined the white-painted walls, and a hanging rack of gleaming copper pans dangled above the stove. A thick-legged table squatted in the middle of the floor, one long enough on which to prepare several dishes at once, with space at the end for an assistant to sit and shell peas or do whatever I needed done.

The kitchen's range was neatly fitted into what had been a large fireplace, the stove high enough that I wouldn't have to stoop or kneel to cook. I'd had to kneel on hard stones at one house-where I hadn't stayed long-and it had taken some time for my knees and back to recover.

Here I could stand and use the hot plates that were able to accommodate five pots at once, with the fire below behind a thick metal door. The fire could be stoked without disturbing the ovens to either side of it-one oven had racks that could be moved so several things could be baked at the same time, and the other spacious oven could have air pumped though it to aid roasting.

I was pleased with the stove, which was quite new, likely requested by the wealthy lordship who liked his meal served precisely when he arrived home. I could bake bread in one oven while roasting a large joint of meat in the other, with all my pots going above. The greatest challenge to a cook is to have every dish ready and hot at the same time so none come to the table colder than any other. To aid this, a shelf above the stove that ran the length of it could keep finished food in warmth while the rest of the meal was completed.

Beyond the kitchen was a scullery with a door that led to the outside stairs, which ran up to the street. The sink was in the scullery so that dirty water and entrails from fish and fowl could be kept well away from the rest of my food. The larder, a long room lined with shelves and with a flagstone floor, looked well stocked, though I'd determine that for myself. From a cursory glance, I saw bags of flour, jars of barley and other grains, dried herbs hanging from the beams, spices in tinned copper jars with labels on them, and crates of vegetables and fruit pushed back against the coolest walls.

The kitchen itself was fairly dark, as most kitchens were, despite the high windows, so we would have to burn lamps all the time, but otherwise, I was satisfied.

The staff to run this lofty house in Mayfair wasn't as large as I'd expect, but they seemed a diligent lot. I had an assistant, a rather pretty girl of about seventeen who seemed genial enough-she reminded me of myself at that age. Whether her assistance would be useful remained to be seen. Four footmen appeared and disappeared from the servants' hall, as did half a dozen maids.

Mrs. Bowen, the housekeeper, was thin and birdlike, and I did not know her. This surprised me, because when you are in service in London, you come to know those in the great houses, or at least of them. However, I'd never heard of Mrs. Bowen, which either meant she'd not been in London long or hadn't long been a housekeeper.

I was disturbed a bit by her very thin figure, because I preferred to work with those who enjoyed eating. Mrs. Bowen looked as though she took no more than a biscuit every day, and then only a digestive. On the other hand, I'd known a spindly man who could eat an entire platter of pork and potatoes followed by a hearty dose of steak and kidney pie and never had to loosen his clothing.

Mr. Davis, whom I soon put down as a friendly old gossip, gave me a book with notes from the last cook on what the master preferred for his dinners. I was pleased to find the dishes uncomplicated but not so dull that any chophouse could have provided them. I could do well here.

I carefully unpacked my knives, including a brand-new, sharp carver, took my apron from my valise, and started right in.

The young assistant, a bit unhappy that I wanted her help immediately, was soon chatting freely with me while she measured out flour and butter for my brioche. She gave her name as Sinead.

She pronounced it Shin-aide and gave me a hopeful look. I thought it a beautiful name, conjuring mists over the green Irish land-a place I'd never been-but this was London, and a cook's kitchen was no place for an Irish nymph.

"It's quite lovely," I said as I cut butter into the flour. "But I'm sorry, my girl, we can't be having Sinead. People get wrong ideas. You must have a plain English name. What did the last cook call you?"

Sinead let out a sigh, her dreams of romance dashed. "Ellen," she said, resigned. I saw by her expression that she disliked the name immensely.

I studied her dark brown hair, blue eyes, and pale skin in some sympathy. Again, she reminded me of myself-poised on the edge of life and believing wonderful things would happen to her. Alas, I'd found out only too soon the bitter truth. Sinead's prettiness would likely bring her trouble, well I knew, and life was apt to dash her hopes again and again.

"Ellen," I repeated, trying to sound cheerful. "A nice, solid name, but not too dull. Now, then, Ellen, I'll need eggs. Large and whole, nothing cracked."

Sinead gave me a long-suffering curtsy and scuttled for the larder.

"She's got her head in the clouds," Mrs. Bowen said as she passed by the kitchen door. "Last cook took a strap to her." She sounded vastly disapproving of the last cook, which made me begin to warm to Mrs. Bowen.

"Is that why the cook was dismissed?" I already didn't think much of this elderly cook, free with a strap, whoever she was. Sinead's only crime, I could see so far, was having dreams.

"No." Mrs. Bowen's answer was short, clipped. She ducked away before she could tell me anything more interesting.

I continued with my bread. Brioche was a favorite of mine-a bread dough made rich with eggs and butter, subtly sweet. It was a fine accompaniment to any meal but also could be served as pudding in a pinch. A little cinnamon and stiff cream or a berry sauce poured over it was as grand as anything served in a posh hotel.

It was as I began beating the flour and eggs into the milk and sugar that I met Lady Rankin's sister. I heard a loud banging and scrabbling noise from the scullery, as though someone had fallen into it down the stairs. Pans clattered to the floor, and then a personage in a black suit burst through the scullery door into the kitchen, boot heels scraping on the flagstones, and collapsed onto a chair at the kitchen table.

I caught up my bowl of dough before it could be upset, looked at the intruder, and then looked again.

This person wore black trousers; a waistcoat of watered silk in a dark shade of green, with a shining watch fob dangling from its pocket; a smooth frock coat and loose cravat; a long and rather dusty greatcoat; a pair of thick leather gloves; and boots that poked muddy toes from under the trousers. The low-crowned hat that went with the ensemble had been tossed onto the table.

Above this male attire was the head and face of a woman, a rather pretty woman at that. She'd done her fair hair in a low bun at the base of her neck, slicking it straight back from a fine-boned face. The light color of her hair, her high cheekbones, and light blue, almost colorless eyes were so like Lady Rankin's, that for a moment, I stared, dumbfounded, believing I was seeing my mistress transformed. This lady was a bit older though, with the beginnings of lines about her eyes, and a manner far more robust than Lady Rankin's.

“Oh Lord,” the woman announced, throwing her bodyback in the chair and letting her arms dangle to the floor. “I think I’ve killed someone.”

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Death Below Stairs 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brilliant! Story moves quickly. Well written with marvelous strong characters who are well developed and likable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series is so great. Anyone who doesn't fall in love with Daniel has no heart. The mystery is adventurous. Kat is the one I have a hard time warming up to. She is supposed to be a loving, giving women who is hustle very prim and proper. She comes off more cold than prim, though. Overall I love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Keeps you reading wanting to know more. Can't wait for the next in series.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Loved it. Daniel Daniel!!
LibbyMcKinmer 10 months ago
When acclaimed young cook Kat Halloway takes a job at Lord Rankin’s Mayfair mansion in Victorian London, she has no idea of the tempest in which she’s landed. From kitchen help below stairs to the family above stairs to the very throne of England, there is plenty of mischief afoot, and it’s up to Kat and the mysterious and multi-talented Daniel McAdam to discover who murdered Kat’s Irish kitchen assistant and what her murder means to a much bigger plot. Daniel seems comfortable in whatever role he’s called upon to play, whether above or below stairs. His past confounds Kat, but they make a formidable team, along with a cast of quirky characters including Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law to Daniel’s son to a mathematics genius. All have their parts to play in unraveling the mystery playing out. If you enjoy an historical mystery, Death Below Stairs will transport you to Victorian London as Kat, Daniel and company solve one murder and prevent more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Death Below Stairs" is a stylish and captivating mystery set in Victorian England that explores class distinctions as it stirs murder and a political plot against the Crown into the cauldron of trouble. Upstairs, Downstairs meets Sherlock Holmes to delight the imagination with an engaging puzzle. Kat Holloway, a cook, and man of secrets Daniel McAdam make a unique sleuthing team.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings The first in a series with a cook of a home taking center stage as she takes a new position and shortly after a murder occurs. Kat Holloway, our cook, has to decide whether she is going to get to the bottom of this murder or let someone else do the job. Of course she has to take on the investigation, but it takes her to a place she couldn't have predicted! When pitched this book to review, I remember a nod to Downtown Abbey and even though I didn't watch that show, I still love a Victorian set anything like most folks. I love the commentary on class system and reliving the days where women had their place to be and nowhere else!
DianaInSC More than 1 year ago
A flavorful, rich Victorian murder mystery among servants I have read a bunch of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series Victorian romances, but I had never read any of the author’s mystery books before. This is actually the second installment in this Kat Holloway series. The first installment, “A Soupcon of Poison” has recently been republished in Ashley’s mystery anthology “Past Crimes”. I did not read that one first, but sometimes during my reading of “Death Below Stairs” I wished I had. The author often vaguely refers to the events as being important in Kat's life, but it is still very possible to read “Death Below Stairs” first. It took me a few chapters to settle in and get to know and love the heroine, but then I was very engrossed and enchanted by the book. Kat is an intelligent, practical lady who has deep compassion for others. The book is written in the third person past perspective. I found the rich descriptions of Kat’s menus and cooking process very soothing and sensory. I could smell the brioche bread rising, and my mouth watered for her sponge cake with lemon cream. I also enjoyed the colorful cast of characters both below and above stairs. On her first day at a new job Kat's young female assistant was murdered. Kat found the body in the larder. Daniel, an enigmatic man who had helped out Kat in the past, turns up and they both try to figure out the murder in between her cooking schedule. The amiable and secretive Daniel really grew on me, and I cheered on his and Kat's slowly developing relationship. I think that the book is suitable for teens and adults. The plot took some wonderfully unexpected turns. It is a very high quality historical mystery fiction. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Victorian mysteries or lady investigators or to anyone who likes to read about great cooking. I think fans of Jennifer Ashley’s other series would love this one as well. I received a free advanced reading copy from the publisher via Netgalley, and I voluntarily wrote this honest review.
Samantha1020 More than 1 year ago
Summary from Goodreads: "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." My Thoughts: I enjoyed reading this book so much and am now so excited about this new series! I basically read the above description and just knew that I had to get my hands on this book. It was one of those reads that sounded totally up my alley and after finishing I can tell you that it really was. One of my absolute favorite things about this book was reading about Kat's cooking and everything that she put into it. I love a good mystery that features food as you probably already know by now. But this book stood out for me because it was set in a day and age where everything is prepared differently along with different types of foods than what we eat nowadays. I adored reading about Kat making these different meals and honestly I loved those parts of the books most. What I also enjoyed though was the relationship that Daniel and Kat had. It was unique to say the least and the banter between the two of them was something that I just couldn't get enough of. I'm really excited to read future books in this series and see where their relationship goes from here! The mystery portion of this book was also well done and left me guessing. I really don't have a single negative thing to say about this book as I enjoyed it so much! Overall after finishing this book, I was absolutely thrilled to find that book two in this series will be releasing later this year! I just cannot wait to see what kind of trouble Kat finds herself in next! There is nothing better than not having to wait ages for the next book in a favorite series. And if the next book is as good as this one was, this series will definitely be added to my must read favorites list! I think that fans of mysteries and cozies alike will enjoy this book. If you've read and enjoyed Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen (which now saying that makes me want to get back to that series - or maybe reread book 1) then I really think that you will enjoy this book as well. They aren't the same by any means but have enough similarities that I think if you enjoyed one, you would definitely enjoy the other. I can easily recommend this book and now begins the wait for book two! Bottom Line: A great beginning to this new mystery series! I can't get enough of these characters! Disclosure: I received a copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley.
KahlanMercy More than 1 year ago
Kat Holloway Mysteries Book One Kat is thrown into a deadly mystery when her new assistant is murdered in the night. She seeks out the help of Daniel McAdam, a previous acquaintance who seems to be able to do anything he pleases. The two begin looking for her murderer, only to find a much deeper plot. During their investigation, Kat and Daniel have several moments of romantic interest. Kat cannot figure out who Daniel is, though, so she is wary of getting too involved. If you're looking for a new Historical Mystery with hints of romance, this is the book for you!
bookwomen37 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this Historical Mystery. Kat Halloway is beginning a new job as a cook in the household of Lord Rankin. When she discovers the body of the murdered kitchen helper she sets out to solve the crime. The characters and historical detail were very well written. I really enjoyed all the characters. The mystery was very good with lots of twists and turns. The partnership between Kat and Daniel is a lot of fun. Enjoy this upstairs/downstairs murder mystery.
CozyMarie More than 1 year ago
All the elements you enjoy in a cozy mystery with a historically British twist. A refreshing change of pace. I read a lot of cozy mysteries and this historical mystery was a nice change of pace. Kat Halloway is a complex, strong, and convicted protagonist and she has a lot of dimension to her character. The backstory is just as powerful as the mystery, which always makes for an entertaining book when there are there are more than one story line I am invested in. I cannot wait to see what happens to Kat in future installments of this refreshing new series. Sub-Themes: historical fiction, culinary cozy, British mystery If You Like: If you are a fan of The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries books, you’ll enjoy this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hfowler More than 1 year ago
Go into this knowing it isn’t a romance. It is strictly a murder mystery though she does start the very slow development of a possible romance between Kat and Daniel. If you go into it not expecting what you typically get with a Jennifer Ashley book, you won’t be disappointed. I was expecting her typical passionate story but there is no romance at all. A few stolen kisses and looks, but nothing else, so it left me disappointed. Now, will I read more, yes because I want Kat and Daniel to get together and I want to know who Daniel really is but I don’t know how long I will be willing to wait. The story was slow, sometimes so slow it was hard to stick with. It did develop the plot and conflict but it was just slower than I wanted. Daniel was a great character, he is the one that kept me interested. I wanted to know more about him and whether he likes Kat or not.
Joana_Varela More than 1 year ago
4.5* I received an eARC at no cost from the author. Although I already knew (and loved) Jennifer Ashely as a historical romance writer, I had never read a mystery book from her, so this was my first attempt. Our main character, Kat, is a cook with a lovely young daughter and a past. She goes to work in a house where a young girl (a scullery maid) dies. And so she decides to get Daniel’s help – he’s someone she knows from her past, but that neither she nor us know much about. And that doesn’t really change throughout the book. It might be the only thing I would like to change – I would have liked to have known just a little bit more about Daniel and his son James, but I’m guessing Jennifer Ashley will start lifting the veil a bit more in the next book. It was full of mystery and I usually find out right away who killed whom, but in this book I was kept on the edge of my chair trying to find out who planned to kill the scullery maid. In the end, it made perfect sense, and I really enjoyed finding out what was happening alongside with Kat and Daniel. It was a very pleasurable read, with a small touch of romance between our main characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next to our Kat, and if she and Daniel upgrade their romance status (I’m sure they will!!).
Virginiaw More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic start to a new series. I loved getting to know Kat and her friends. I love the time period. I love how they could solve murders without dna and other things that we rely so heavily on. I am really looking forward to the next book in this series. I received a copy of this book from Firsttoread for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.
Sailon More than 1 year ago
I had a strong connection to this story from the start. It had a classic murder mystery feel but based in a "Downtown Abbey" flair. The pace was quick and engaging but then it stalled. Pushing on, I'm happy to say that it came back once again strong, providing a white-knuckle reading straight through the conclusion. I received this ARC copy of Death Below Stairs from Berkley Publishing Group. This is my honest and voluntary review.
Barb-TRC More than 1 year ago
Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley is the 1st book in her new The Below Stairs Mystery series. Though Ashley writes in many different genres, this was the first time I was going to read a Victorian style mystery. What I enjoyed the most about this mystery was that it spent a lot of time in a mansion, which had a wonderful feel of ‘Downton Abbey’, with the normal household staffing with housekeeper, cooks, house steward, maids, footman, valet, butlers, etc. Kat Holloway, our heroine, is a well known cook, who takes a job in household of the Rankin family, after her recent job ended when her employers moved. She is a smart, confident, independent, a strong heroine, who immediately shows her strength to the household staff, even to the master of the house, Lord Rankin. Kat, who is just around 30 years of age, is also very loyal and protective of those she works with, and will stand up for them. Before the next day begins, she discovers the dead body of her assistant, and a murder investigation will begin. Daniel McAdam, our hero, is not a member of the household, but he is a friend (future love interest) of Kat, and when she decides to investigate, it will be Daniel who will step in to help her. Daniel is sort of a mystery man; one who cares for Kat, and she slowly for him, but one who seems to have different disguises. Who is Daniel McAdam? He can look like a gentleman; a servant, a spy or is he with the police. Either way, he is one of the good guys, and very protective of Kat. Daniel also has a young son, who was a nice added element. Kat has her own secret, with a daughter, Grace that lives with a friend, since Kat cannot take care of her, having to work all the time to pay the bills. As they investigate the murder, Daniel with help from Kat, and two other very good secondary characters begin to realize that this murder was a cover-up of a higher complex crime that could go as high as the safety of the Queen. There were a number of situations where their lives were in danger. The mystery was good, but the background, with all those secondary characters (especially Lady Cynthia and Daniel’s friend) made this a very good read. I did like Kat and Daniel together and as a team. I expect we will see more romance between them in future books. If you enjoy Victorian stories, with a mystery theme, a Downton Abbey background, two very good leading characters and very well written by Jennifer Ashley, I suggest you start this series.
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley is the first installment in A Below Stairs Mystery series (also called Kat Holloway Mysteries). Mrs. Kat Holloway is twenty-nine years old and a cook in London (1881). She has just obtained a position at Lord and Lady Rankin’s home in Mayfair. Kat comes down to work the next morning to discover her assistant dead in the larder. Kat sends for the mysterious Daniel McAdam to assist her in uncovering what happened to the poor girl. The eccentric Lady Cynthia (Lady Rankin’s sister) joins them on their quest to discover what happened. It seems that Kat’s assistant had gotten herself involved with the wrong people. What had the young woman come across that got her murdered? Death Below Stairs had my attention for the first couple of chapters, but then it became tedious (I wish the whole book had been like the beginning). The author is overly descriptive. Every little detail is provided. It does create a rich environment (reminds me of the show Upstairs Downstairs). Readers are given detailed accounts of clothing, how Kat sharpened her knives (more than once), how Kat prepares each dish, description of rooms, people, buildings, etc. The pace was glacial, and the book did not hold my attention. The murder mystery was interesting, but it was not the main focus of the book. The mystery took them into the world of the Fenians. I found some parts of this section to be implausible. I believe many people will be surprised by the killer’s identity. I was curious how Kat was able to run around looking for a killer. Most cooks are busy from the moment they enter the kitchen in the morning until late at night. Kat, who just started her position, manages to run around London and then take several days off in the pursuit of answers. It was also odd that she never consulted the lady of the house regarding meals. Most cooks met once a week with their employer to discuss the meals for the upcoming week (food had to be ordered by the housekeeper). Kat is an interesting character. She has a secret that could ruin her and her career. Daniel McAdam is an enigma. We are given scant details on him. After I began Death Below Stairs, I felt I was missing something. It did not feel like the first book in the series. After a little research, I found that there is a prequel titled A Soupcon of Poison. Events from the prequel are alluded to in Death Below Stairs. Death Below Stairs felt more like a romance novel (at times) than a mystery. Kat and Daniel are attracted to each other. We get to hear how attractive Daniel is and how his kisses make her “lips tingle” (many, many times). The author tried to put too much into this one book. I wish she had stuck with the murder mystery and excluded the plot to eliminate Queen Victoria and the Fenians.
MADreaderMD More than 1 year ago
The depiction of the life of a cook in one of London's great houses is so detailed that you really feel like you're there as Kat whips up a delicious meal or selects the choice ingredients for her next dish. In fact, the descriptions of some of those dishes made me hungry! With a focus on the common people instead of the members of the ton, this story really gives you insight into what went on every day to keep all the rich folks fed, dressed, and cleaned up after. But all that detail doesn't take away from the very entertaining tale of murder and intrigue that Kat and Daniel have to puzzle out. With help from various characters from all levels of society, they race to find out who killed a young kitchen maid and what wider plots are in motion. Kat also has to deal with her feelings for Daniel, who is a man of mystery himself. She's a skilled cook who doesn't need a man to take care of her, but oh, wouldn't it be nice to let someone take care of her every once in a while. The two have a history from a previous case, and since this is a continuing series, I'm looking forward to how their relationship develops. An ARC of the book was provided to me by the author.
JuliaAD More than 1 year ago
I liked this story from the beginning. I really like the characters. Daniel is an enigma and Kat is a very strong person. You have women who dress in trousers and some interesting servants. When Kat's assistant is murdered, she didn't stop trying to find out what happened to her. Along the way Kat and Daniel uncover a plot to kill the Queen. I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to hearing more from Kat and Daniel.
SMeeko More than 1 year ago
A Victorian Mystery with a Bit of Romance FINAL DECISION: A lively main character combined with a far reaching mystery and the presence of a man with many secrets makes this Victorian historical mystery an enjoyable read. THE STORY: Cook Kat Holloway has found herself a new position which almost immediately embroils her in the murder of one of the servants. Determined to discover who has murdered the young girl, Kat asks for help from her friend/acquaintance Daniel McAdams, a man with a lot of secrets. Kat and Daniel's search takes them far from the murder of an Irish servant to the possibility of treason. OPINION: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I began reading mysteries and I always liked the ones with relationships between the "detectives" and this book fits right in that tradition. While the mystery is interesting and keeps the pace of the story lively, what I really love about this book is the strength and independence of Kat and her relationship with the mysterious Daniel. Kat is strong and lively and I loved reading about her struggles. Unlike most women in historical novels, Kat works hard every day and has a career that she has created for herself. It is interesting to read about her daily life and the status differences "below stairs". The struggles and limitations on women of all status is emphasized here. Daniel's character is also intriguing as he has plenty of secrets that are slowly revealed -- although not all of them are uncovered in this book. He is a good match for Kat and his obvious caring and concern for her even while they are friends makes their romance a slow burn but an interesting one. The cast of characters, which includes the offspring of both Kat and Daniel, are tossed into a high stakes mystery. Like all good murder suspense stories, this one begins with what seems to be an insignificant death and eventually turns into quite a big deal through a series of twisty plot turns. I enjoyed the mystery as well as the romance in this one. Everything meshed so well so that all the interesting characters were given something important to do in the unfolding plot, but no one seemed out of place. I enjoyed this one and would read it again to see all the little turns that I missed. WORTH MENTIONING: This is a continuing series where the romance between Kat and Daniel is slow moving and part of the continuing storylines of the series with a book emphasis on a particular mystery. CONNECTED BOOKS: DEATH BELOW STAIRS is the first novel in the Kat Holloway Murders series. There is a prequel book that introduces the characters. While it is not necessary to read that novella first, it certainly provides some background to the characters here. STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars. NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via First to Read by applying points that I earned. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.
Candace-LoveyDoveyBooks More than 1 year ago
The first in a new series from Jennifer Ashley, Death Below Stairs puts readers in the life of a 29-year-old Victorian cook. Kat Holloway is a fierce and passionate woman who makes her living cooking for wealthy homeowners. Her most recent post is suitably situated and she thinks she couldn't do better. Until she starts her second day of work by finding a dead body in her larder, that is. I don't read a lot of historical mysteries, but Death Below Stairs is one that makes me think I've been missing out. I felt like I was reading the diary of a real Victorian cook and transported to that time and place. I loved every minute of it! Kat is such a lively character and when Daniel McAdam comes around she practically jumps off the pages. Their chemistry is obvious, but Kat would rather insist he tell all his secrets rather than allow herself to be charmed. Surprise of all surprises, this fast-moving mystery has a bit of action to complement the drama. When Kat stumbles upon a Fenian conspiracy that could cause harm to the Queen she unites with various, and quite eccentric, characters to save the day. Kat's voice is unique in the way she tells the story as if she's speaking to you personally. She has a friendly, inviting tone that I was helpless to resist. Death Below Stairs is a fun cozy mystery that might leave you craving a giant slice of seedcake, but at least your craving for mystery will be satisfied! *ARC received via First to Read*