Death in Kew Gardens (A Below Stairs Mystery)

Written by Jennifer Ashley
Review by Valerie Adolph

Kat Holloway is the cook in charge of the kitchen in Lord Rankin’s London house in 1881. She is a determined, capable woman who has already solved mysteries in Ashley’s two previous novels in the series. In this third novel she meets Chinese scholar Li Bai Chang who repays her small kindnesses by giving her a precious gift—tea.

But this is no ordinary tea. This is tea so valuable that its plants are seen as a treasure. Lord Harkness, who lives next door to Kat’s employers, is killed for it. Mr. Li, a foreigner seen in the area at the time of the murder, is assumed to be the murderer.

Lord Harkness has travelled widely in China and brought home a plethora of trinkets, treasures and rare plants that he grows in his garden, tea plants among them. He has connections with Kew Gardens, and it is there that another Chinese man is discovered—dead. This young man is found to be a son that Lord Harkness had fathered while in China.

The plot twists and turns with an assortment of people seeking the “treasure,” mostly unaware that this is actually a special variety of tea plant rather than gold or an antique vase.

This novel is a refreshing change from the usual Victorian mystery with beautifully gowned heiresses. Mrs. Holloway is merely a cook. The two young heiresses who assist in finding the killer both wear masculine attire. Tea has seldom been depicted as a treasure. This novel also twists expectations by showing below-stairs staff leading those upstairs, and hangers-on attempting to drain weaker aristocrats dry.

This is a well-researched, well-constructed novel that leaves one curious to read the further adventures of the main characters.