- By Nita Prose
- Ballantine Books
- 304 pp.
- Reviewed by Tara Laskowski
- January 8, 2023
This cozy whodunit is a joy from the first page to the last.
The work that goes into an immaculate hotel room often goes unnoticed. One walks into the finished product and appreciates its elegant simplicity, everything crisp and delightful and new.
This is how I feel about The Maid, Nita Prose’s short-but-memorable debut crime novel. It’s such a pleasure to experience, readers won’t realize all the behind-the-scenes hard work that goes into crafting such a fun and surprising mystery.
Molly is a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel and loves her job. And when I say loves, I mean loves. There’s nothing, it seems, that she adores more than to return dirty rooms to “a state of perfection.”
“Every day of work is a joy to me,” she tells us early on. “I was born to do this job.” And indeed, her descriptions of the wonders of cleaning make me want to bust open the cabinet under the sink and start disinfecting everything:
“There’s nothing quite like a perfectly stocked maid’s trolley…The crisp little packages of delicately wrapped soaps that smell of orange blossom, the tiny Crabtree & Evelyn shampoo bottles, the squat tissue boxes…And last but not least, the cleaning kit, which includes a feather duster, lemon furniture polish, lightly scented antiseptic garbage bags, as well as an impressive array of spray bottles of solvents and disinfectants, all lined up and ready to combat any stain, be it coffee rings, vomit — or even blood.”
Unfortunately for Molly, her attention to detail when it comes to cleanliness doesn’t extend to understanding social cues or knowing how to navigate the complex waters of conversations or relationships. Molly the Maid is seen as a “weirdo” by her co-workers, who don’t appreciate or comprehend her boundless desire to do her best at her job. Her closest friend was her grandmother, who has recently died, leaving her alone in the apartment they once shared. And she is easily duped by conniving people.
When she enters the penthouse suite at the Regency Grand one afternoon to return it to perfection, she finds very much the opposite: The most prized hotel guest, Mr. Black, is collapsed dead in his bed, murdered. Sadly, because of a series of unfortunate events that I won’t detail here because they’re incredibly amusing to uncover as a reader, Molly finds herself the prime suspect in his killing and the center of a swirling scandal threatening not only the reputation of the hotel she adores but also her own livelihood.
Channeling the quirky cast of “Clue” and gentle, wry humor of Douglas Adams, The Maid hits all the right notes in these crazy times. With the world seemingly in more disarray every day, it’s refreshing to meet a character who just wants to make everything orderly again. Molly’s voice is distinguishing from the very first page: “Every day in every way” and “Need a tissue for your issue?” I loved her unique take on life and her plucky optimism.
The Maid is such an enjoyable read that I was sad when it ended. Author Prose does a superb job of building this small but complete world. Even the secondary characters are interesting and memorable, from the cranky landlord to the weary but prudent hotel manager. It’s obvious from the outset who the friends and foes are and which are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but we go along for the ride because we want to watch Molly figure it out for herself.
The Maid is, to use one of Molly’s favorite words, a “delight” from beginning to end.
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2022.]
Tara Laskowski is the author of the suspense novels The Mother Next Door and One Night Gone, the latter of which won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for best debut novel.