Scandal Above Stairs (Below Stairs Mystery)

Written by Jennifer Ashley
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

The second in Jennifer Ashley’s Below Stairs Mystery series, Scandal Above Stairs opens in 1881 as our sleuth, experienced cook Kat Holloway, works in the bustling servants’ quarters of the posh London home of Lady Cynthia, Kat’s employer. She learns that a recent spate of thefts of paintings and priceless artifacts has plagued the upper-class homes of London aristocrats. Kat’s romantic attachment with the elusive Daniel McAdam takes a turn she learns that stolen goods are being sold at the pawnshop where he works. After a man is found murdered at that very shop, she and Daniel set out to solve the crime spree before more lives and antiquities are taken. Their quest leads them not only into the underworld of unsavory characters inhabiting London’s streets, but also into the upper-class world above stairs where a poisoner lies in wait.

This novel reads well and fast, its detailed Downton Abbey-like settings and likeable characters filling the pages. In addition, there are many mouthwatering details about Victorian cooking that enliven the cook’s kitchen below stairs. Various sweet treats are mentioned, “a raspberry tart with chocolate film on its crust, a lemon and blueberry custard, ices…and a syllabub…full of sherry and brandy.” The author’s well-crafted metaphors and tight sequences make for an absorbing read. Though set in the late Victorian era, Kat Holloway’s voice is strong and genuine. Lady Cynthia, who wears trousers and dresses like a man, provides a modern update. The romantic attachment between Kat and Daniel does not overpower their quest to find the culprit, and their back-and-forth dialogue adds humor and warmth to the novel. Now I want to read the first novel in the series!