Sometimes you can’t help but root for the bad guys.
Such is the case with housekeeper-turned-criminal mastermind Mrs. Dinah King and her eclectic gang of co-conspirators in Alex Hay’s debut novel, The Housekeepers. The novel is set in London’s wealthy Park Lane in 1905 during the height of the Edwardian era, which Hay describes in his introduction as a time of “opulence, scrappy characters, remarkable flashes of modernity, and layers of corruption that exist just underneath all that glamour.”
The sprawling de Vries mansion, where Mrs. King works, is “seven floors high from cellars to attics. Newly built, all diamond money, glinting white” with treasures in every room: “stupendous Van Dycks, giant crystal bowls stuffed with carnations. Objets d’art in gold and silver and jade, cherubs with rubies for eyes and emeralds for toenails.” When we first meet Mrs. King, she is already on her way out the door, fired for certain indiscretions and making a mental list of everything of value as she goes. Unlike many disgruntled employees dismayed by the sudden loss of a steady paycheck, she is already plotting to turn her misfortune into opportunity. After recruiting a ragtag team of women, Mrs. King reveals her plot to take her former employers for everything they have.
From the outset, Hay makes it clear that Mrs. King is calling the shots. She tells her team in no uncertain terms that “we will have one object, one single plan. There will be no grumbling, no discord. If you’re given an order, you follow it.” And they do it with panache and style, right under the noses of the de Vries and their guests during a lavish costume ball.
Hay is equally in control, weaving a quick-fire, almost whimsical story of class and privilege, of low and high society. Half the fun is watching as the team stealthily smuggles in various burglary tools and smuggles out their pilfered treasures. But, as with most criminal endeavors, the slightest miscue or misstatement threatens to upend everything midheist.
Already an award-winning book in its native U.K., The Housekeepers is mischievous, suspenseful and just plain fun from start to finish.