This is book four in the Below Stairs series by Jennifer Ashley, set in Victorian England. The series is unique in that the focus is on Kat Holloway, a cook in a grand house in Mayfair – an upstairs/downstairs premise that gives you a look into the workings of a large kitchen in that time period. She is intelligent and resourceful, and her quick thinking has saved many a meal when the upstairs folk demand a menu change at the last minute. But of course, it isn’t only the cooking that Kat is involved in – she’s been solving a few mysteries along the way.
In this book, Kat is asked by her friend and confidante Daniel McAdam to help someone who is looking for a woman who has disappeared. Daniel is a rather mysterious character, in that he generally appears as a delivery man but Kat has discovered he has ties to Scotland Yard. Between them, they solved the other mysteries, and she doesn’t hesitate when he asks for help.
The missing woman, Nurse Betts, had been working at the foundling hospital, and had become involved with Errol Fielding, a vicar and also Daniel’s foster brother. He was on the Board of Governors for the hospital, and learned that children had gone missing – by enlisting the nurse, she had obviously become a liability. Kat is horrified by what could have happened to the children – she has a daughter of her own, who lives with friends for a more stable life. She agrees to visit the orphanage, where they tell her that the children were adopted; however, when they look into that, none of the addresses exist. Then Nurse Betts turns up dead and it’s clear there is more to this than meets the eye, and they fear the children may have been sold into a brothel. Kat’s connections with the “downstairs” network of cooks, maids and other servants can hopefully shed more light on the situation and the sleuthing begins.
There are several supporting characters in this series including Mr. Davis the butler, Tess the cook’s helper, as well as other below stairs servants. Cynthia, the niece of Kat’s employers, longs for a life from the restrictions of her aunt and uncle and is eager to help Kat as much as she can. She has two other lady friends who lend a hand as well with finding information from the gentry that Kat is unable to.
This series is enjoyable, and the descriptions of the meals and delicacies that Kat turns out in the kitchen leave my mouth watering. While this book can be read as a standalone, it’s helpful to have read the earlier ones to understand the full relationships between the characters. There are obviously some romantic leanings between Kat and Daniel, but it’s an extremely slow burn. She does discover some details of his life in this book, but the relationship is not progressing very far at this point. The mystery in this one didn’t grab me quite as much as the other books, but overall I do recommend this if you’re interested in a change from the lords and ladies that populate historical fiction.