Alex Hay’s debut crime novel, The Housekeepers, is a dastardly and delightful romp through Edwardian London with the servant class as the reader’s guide. The Housekeepers is a confection—almost like a bon-bon served beside a flute of expensive champagne while lounging for hours among luxurious bubbles in an ornate clawfoot bathtub.
It’s 1905 and when Mrs. King is unceremoniously fired from her long-standing position as the head housekeeper at Park Lane in the heart of London, she refuses to go down without a fight. Her plan to get revenge is to pull off the heist of the century by stealing not some, but all of the valuables from the gilded mansion.
The structure of The Housekeepers is inspired. Alex Hay spends the early chapters after Mrs. King is fired having her gather an “elite” collection of fellow servants—all women—who agree that robbing Park Lane is a worthwhile venture. The middle chapters recount how this new team of servants case the joint, gather the equipment, and settle on a blueprint for the caper.
This of course is followed by an extended section where the heist actually occurs. Anyone who has watched film franchises like Mission: Impossible and Ocean’s Eleven will know that escapades on this level rarely proceed without at least a few hitches. Watching how this ragtag team works through every stage of their heist is not only great fun, but is also a not-so-subtle, intentional, reminder never to underestimate those with less status and privilege. Being looked down upon can be the best motivator.
Of course, because this is a mystery novel as well, each of these women has a different reason for extracting revenge on the de Vries Family. Alex Hay slowly lets readers into the true motives of each woman, allowing for a strong bond to form. By the time the evening of the costume ball arrives (the night the heist will take place), readers are as fully invested in this team’s success as the participants themselves.
Reading The Housekeepers is like jumping on a moving train and never stopping until the final destination is reached. The chapters fly by, providing the perfect volume of historical accuracy to keep the reader oriented in the past, without bogging the forward action down with unnecessary detail. As one might anticipate, the Park Lane mansion itself is virtually a character of its own. Reading the descriptions of the rooms, understanding the floorplan, and clocking all the unique and expensive possessions around this grand home is akin to watching House Hunters: Edwardian Edition on HGTV.
All of this would be for naught if Alex Hay was unable to bring the novel to a successful resolution, but fortunately, this debut author has that well under control. With a cast of this size, it’s quite an achievement to tie off most of the loose ends while also keeping the air of mystery alive and well. The Housekeepers by Alex Hay is without a doubt one of the strongest crime fiction debuts of the year. Whose side are you on? Open the pages of this novel and quickly find out.
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Disclaimer: An print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.