Quick Review: THE MAID by Nita Prose (Harper/Ballantine)

ProseN-MaidUKHCAn intriguing mystery, starring an engaging protagonist

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?

Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid – why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid – but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how everyone deserves to be seen. And how the truth isn’t always black and white – it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between…

Molly is a dedicated, utterly focused maid at a boutique, exclusive hotel. Someone who struggles with social cues and reading others, she unwittingly becomes entangled in the strange goings-on at the Regency Grand Hotel. Through her eyes, we get an engaging, interesting view of society, relationships, and the motivations for murder. I enjoyed this.

Molly is a very good protagonist. She’s on the autism spectrum, in that she struggles with reading people, understanding nuance and other social cues. She is single-minded in her focus on work, having utterly taken on board one of her grandmother’s aphorisms. She is also, in a way, perfectly suited to her role at a hotel that prides itself on exceptional service and discretion.

“The shopkeeper described you perfectly — someone who blends into the background, until she speaks. The kind of person you’d easily forget about under most circumstances.”

ProseN-MaidUSHCIt offers some interesting narrative opportunities for the author: for example, the reader can often see what is happening in front of Molly, but she can’t always read the situation properly. Rather than making Molly seem oblivious, the author sprinkles her own innocent observations into the situation, providing an extra layer of mystery and intrigue — we come to question everyone’s motives, when they are interacting with Molly. Also, Prose doesn’t give the reader much more than what Molly sees, hears, and does — she doesn’t fill in any details to explain what Molly has missed. I found myself questioning almost every character’s involvement in the events at the hotel, and only in the final third or so of the book did everything click into place. (Certain revelations weren’t surprises, but others came as something of a relief.)

There are so many instances of casual, oblivious cruelty from the myriad cast of character who move in and out of Molly’s daily routine. Even those who think they are being kind or are her allies can exhibit prejudice and certain biases. For example, one character (who, admittedly, isn’t the most pure of heart or intent) tells Molly to not “believe what anyone says. You’re not a freak. Or a robot.” The character clearly does not realizing that what she’s actually done is inform Molly that everyone else at the hotel thinks of her as a robot, someone to be avoided, pitied, or mocked. Molly is perfectly aware of her reputation among her colleagues and superiors, but there is something especially cruel in the way people keep reminding her of it; the use of qualifying statements amended to praise or kindnesses.

Overall, then, this was a good and engaging mystery. Molly’s worldview adds plenty of interesting opportunities to make the story a bit different. It wasn’t flawlessly executed, but it’s a quickly paced novel that held my attention and kept me reading into the night — if for no other reason than I needed to know that Molly would be alright in the end. I’m not sure it really counts as one, but The Maid feels like an interesting twist on the Cozy Mystery genre.

Recommended.

*

Nita Prose’s The Maid is due to be published by Harper in the UK (January 20th) and Ballantine Books in North America (January 4th).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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