I decided to review the #COYER book club reads together in one post. These are our April 2021 picks – Mystery month. Interestingly, both our picks ended up also being historical mysteries. The adult one a bit more classic historical mystery and the YA pick has a fantasy angle. I liked both well enough, but I also don’t think Historical Mysteries are my favorite genre.Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Series: Kat Holloway Mysteries #1
Published by Berkley on January 2, 2018
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Victorian class lines are crossed when cook Kat Holloway is drawn into a murder that reaches all the way to the throne.
Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.
Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.
I enjoyed this historical mystery from Jennifer Ashley. This was my first time reading an historical mystery and I’m glad I started with Jennifer Ashley as she excels in every genre she writes. I don’t think it’s “my genre” – I like it well enough but I can’t see myself binge reading the genre.
I think the element I liked most was that, unlike most historical romances, the main character wasn’t a Lady but a servant – a cook. In fact, this had a very Downton Abbey like feel, in that we see how the servants and the family they support are so connected. Unlike Downton Abbey this doesn’t spend as much time with the family and the story is told entirely form the point of view of Mrs. H (the cook).
The mystery was satisfying, in that there were several elements to throw you off and keep you guessing. Ultimately there ended up being more like 2 mysteries, both connected to the murder of Mrs. H’s assistant (on Mrs. H’s first night with the family). There’s a larger mystery that I presume will be resolved over the course of the series.
I really enjoyed the characters and the varieties of lives we see throughout the book. Mrs. H is a mother, but her “husband” lied to her and was actually married to someone else, so things there are complicated. There’s a bit of a romance, which I also enjoyed and hope to see come to something more complete by the end of the series. I do think I will eventually continue through the series — maybe a book every month or so — since I did enjoy it, but it’s a slower read for me. I might see if the rest of the series is available for me to listen to on Scribd, since I can do that much faster.
Jackaby by William Ritter
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Series: Jackaby #1
on September 16, 2014
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: 7 hours 21 minutes
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1890, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary - including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby's assistant.
On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it's an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local police seem adamant to deny.
While Abigail finds herself drawn to Jackaby's keen intelligence and his sensitivity to phenomena others barely perceive, her feelings are confused by the presence of Charlie, a handsome young policeman willing to help Jackaby and Abigail on the case. But is Charlie's offer a sincere desire to be of service, or is some darker motive at work.
Although I enjoyed this well enough, it’s not something I probably would have picked up on my own and I doubt I’ll continue the series. I like all the characters and elements well enough, but I think it’s just a bit silly/ridiculous for me. And I solved the mystery pretty much instantly. As soon as the character that did it and the chief clue had been presented, for sure.
I think that thing I liked most about the book was the main character – Abigail Rook. She’s a young girl who’s fled a “proper” life in England, searching for something more – excitement, adventure, a life that a young man could have in the 1890s but not a woman. So I liked that rebellious, not wiling to settle, side of her. And I liked her openness to the world and possibilities that Jackaby presents.
Jackaby is an okay character. On one hand, I really like him. He’s a genuine person and kind. But he’s also where the ridiculousness that makes me not love this book settles. It’s not the fantasy elements and the fact that he alone can see them – it’s the WAY he talks about them, the way he describes things, etc. It’s meant to be humorous and I think that for many people, it probably has that exact effect. It makes me roll my eyes. But I do like him as a person. He’s a good guy, despite his ridiculousness.
While this isn’t a steampunk novel – it set in that time range and, despite the very few references to gears and such, I think that I’m coming to realize I just don’t love books set in that time frame and the manner of talk that seems to go with it. Fantasy elements, which I normally enjoy and could have been so great here, just didn’t work for me – and I think it was that tone.
I listened to this book on Scribd and Nicola Barber was a very good narrator. All the voices cam across well and with varied personalities, that fit the characters well. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book narrated by her in the future.