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Death Below Stairs

Monday, March 16, 2020

Death Below Stairs (2018) Jennifer Ashley (Kat Holloway)

Death Below StairsSet in London in 1881.

I read the novella A Soupçon of Poison awhile ago, and when I didn’t find a novel immediately, forgot about it.

Kat Halloway has just taken a position as cook for Lord Rankin. She is relatively young for her position, but sought after for her skills.

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.

Her second day there, she literally stumbles over the body of the kitchen maid, and (after a small freak-out) tries to send for her friend Daniel, who helped her previously in unraveling a mystery.

The household is an odd one, with the Lord working at his business to make more money, his wife a pale and fragile thing, and the wife’s sister and strange woman who goes about in men’s clothes.

In addition to a murder, Kat continues to wonder about Daniel. He is definitely now who he first presented himself as, and she is unsure which of his guises is the true him. Kat also has decisions to make about her daughter–one that would be extremely difficult for any woman, but even harder for a woman of her position in that time period.

There was one thing I was slightly uneasy with, and that was Lady Cynthia. She dresses as a man, and it is relatively clear that she does so for the freedom her garments give her. What I’m unsure about is whether she’d actually have been able to get away with it at that time, and whether one of the reactions to her would have been correct.

“And to answer your question, no, I am not a hermaphrodite.”

“Oh.” Elgin looked disappointed. “Pity. I would have liked to learn all about being a hermaphrodite from one who actually practiced such things. One shouldn’t rely on hearsay.”

“For God’s sake, sit down,” Daniel growled at him. “The British Empire will fall by the time you finish talking. Have a look at this.”

It’s pretty clear from the text that Lady Cynthia’s friend is a lesbian and Cynthia is not, but the terminology used here isn’t something I’d come across before, and would really like to know where it came from in this context.

Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 7.5/10

Categories: British, Female, Historical, Mystery     Comments (0)    



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