Murder in the East End (A Below Stairs Mystery)

Written by Jennifer Ashley
Review by Jackie Drohan

The latest installment in the Below Stairs mystery series by the prolific Jennifer Ashley, Murder in the East End does not disappoint.  Set in Victorian London and featuring the beloved Kat Holloway, a cook for the upper-class Bywater family, the novel weaves a page-turning mystery in an authentic historical setting.

Kat collaborates with her mysterious romantic interest, Daniel McAdam, and his unorthodox clergyman brother, Errol, to investigate the disappearance of several children and a nurse from a London foundling hospital.  Her protective instincts for her own child, Grace, give additional motive. While Kat’s “below stairs” status gives her access to domestic circles and the wealth of information they contain, her alliance with Lady Cynthia Shires, attractive, rebellious and well connected, gives Kat a glimpse of a more avant garde lifestyle and leaves her pondering her own possibilities.

The novel resounds with compelling historical touches: food and drink, class hierarchy, Irish rebellion, and East End criminality. The city of London itself becomes a character, as we are taken on detailed but breezy journeys with Kat by foot and carriage.  While the plot may advance a bit slowly for some mystery fans, the rich character studies and descriptions of quotidien life hold the readers interest and more than compensate.  Interesting players include the eccentric mathematician Mr. Thanos, as well as Bessie, whose man, Jack, is confined to the infamous Steel prison for the theft of a few work tools.

The style is pitch-perfect, with varying and authentically voiced dialog combined with well-balanced description and consistent perspective. Ashley’s fans will be pleased, but it’s also highly recommended to new readers fond of Victorian settings and multilayered mystery.