Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Book Review: SCANDAL ABOVE STAIRS

Title: Scandal Above Stairs (Kat Holloway Mysteries #2)
Author: Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 320
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐







Kat Holloway, cook extraordinaire in the home of Lord Rankin, is used to dealing with crises in the kitchen. Since the house is short staffed, Kat has to double up as a cook-cum-housewife, no easy job.

When Lady Cynthia’s friend, Clementina, who is in deep debt as a result of her addiction to gambling, is accused of the theft of priceless artwork from her own home by her husband, Sir Evan Godfrey, Cynthia seeks Kat’s help.

Meanwhile, Kat’s good friend, Daniel McAdam, takes up work at a pawnbroker’s. When a man is found murdered in the shop, Kat is afraid that it is Daniel who has been killed. Until she learns that he has been planted in the pawnshop by the police, and that he is waiting for thugs and thieves to bring him stolen antiquities.

A spate of thefts in several large homes leads Kat and Daniel to suspect that someone big is behind the thefts. As danger gets ever closer, and Cynthia’s own home is broken into, will Kat succeed in finding the culprit and solving the mystery or will danger strike too close to home?


Since this is the second book in its series, readers may already be aware of Kat’s prowess in the kitchen and her ability to solve murder mysteries. For me, this was an initiation into the series, and I thought the book was quite charming. The book is written in the first person past tense account of Kat.

The high-point of the book, more than the murder, was the relationships between the characters. Nearly all the characters have a warm and endearing bond with someone or the other. Notably, I am referring to the relationship between Kat and her daughter, Grace, though their interactions don’t give us much of a clue to Grace’s feelings. In fact, we see more of James, Daniel’s son, than we do of Grace, but then again, that is because Grace doesn’t live with Kat.

Kat and Daniel, Kat and Tess, and Kat and Cynthia are other interesting pairs that lighten up the pages.

The characters are all sweet. Their back stories were handled neatly, without disturbing the flow of the book, or making the introduction jar.

That Kat staunchly guarded her day off, for herself and Tess, the waif sent by Daniel to work as an assistant to Kat, I liked.

There is Elgin Thanos, Daniel’s friend, with whom Cynthia has a slow burner of a romance. There is a similar slow romance going on between Kat and Daniel. Despite swearing off men, after her disastrous marriage with a man she didn’t know was already married, Kat cannot help the feelings she has for Daniel.
Just the way I like it. It’s annoying when the romance element goes overboard.


I liked Lady Cynthia, my namesake. She is sweet and has lots of ‘eccentricities,’ particularly when seen through the lens of her time. She dresses in men’s clothes and enjoys her freedom, going out at night, behaviour expressly forbidden for women.

Tess was another interesting character, and I admired her wit and intelligence, and the slow buildup of respect between her and Kat.

It’s amazing the amount of stuff that Kat manages to cook. For a long time, it seemed as if the cooking overwhelmed the sleuthing. Not that I am complaining. I enjoyed reading about the food portions. All that talk about chopping and hunks of ham and greens nicely crisped, not to mention tarts and pastries, kept me in good humour.

The author does a fine job of evoking the period with its hansoms and flounces in women’s clothing, and its oppressive social mores and modes of behaviour and conduct.

I found the context very interesting. The class differences are firmly in place, and those who try to cross over from one side to another are frowned upon. It is also worth noting that women from the higher classes were, in their own way, subjugated. As Kat says, Wealth and power could cause as much pain and sorrow as it alleviated.

In the book, we see how the few women, who wear men’s clothing, either to experience the freedom men enjoyed or to be free of the restrictive female clothing or because of their orientation, are punished, even institutionalized for defying societal norms.

There is a Christian element in Kat’s belief that God forgives more than people do, and in Daniel’s willingness to forgive the man from whom he has sought vengeance all his life.


The mystery was a good one. And there were lessons on trust and goodness and treating people the way you would want them to treat you, along the way. All served with some delicious food and great descriptions.

There was a bit of action towards the end, that saw all the characters indulge wholeheartedly. I’m always appreciative of a book that honours its female characters as much as its male ones, and gives them space to show off their skills.
  

I look forward to catching the previous book.



(I received an ARC from First to Read).


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