Review: The Housekeepers by Alex Hay

Review: The Housekeepers by Alex HayThe Housekeepers by Alex Hay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on July 4, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The night of London's grandest ball, a bold group of women downstairs launch a daring revenge heist against Mayfair society in this dazzling historical novel about power, gender, and class.
Mrs. King is no ordinary housekeeper. Born into a world of con artists and thieves, she’s made herself respectable, running the grandest home in Mayfair. The place is packed with treasures, a glittering symbol of wealth and power, but dark secrets lurk in the shadows.
When Mrs. King is suddenly dismissed from her position, she recruits an eclectic group of women to join her in revenge: A black market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs. King’s predecessor, with her own desire for vengeance.
Their plan? On the night of the house’s highly anticipated costume ball—set to be the most illustrious of the year—they will rob it of its every possession, right under the noses of the distinguished guests and their elusive heiress host. But there’s one thing Mrs. King wants even more than money: the truth. And she’ll run any risk to get it…
After all, one should never underestimate the women downstairs.

My Review:

It’s 1905, the somber colors and repressive sensibilities of the Victorian era are gone along with the 19th century, and the glittering Edwardian era is in its full if brief splendor of wretched excess in the pursuit of pleasure while so-called ‘Radicals’ agitated towards reform and the world lurched towards the Great War that upended society, killed a generation of young men and hastened the British Empire towards its sunset.

This is a heist story, and like all the best heist stories, it starts kind of in the middle. In this particular story it starts with a beginning AND an ending, although neither is either the beginning or the ending of the story.

First, there’s an invitation. The oh-so-correctly worded and printed invitation to an opulent masquerade ball at the recently inherited and ridiculously opulent Park Lane mansion of the wealthy Miss de Vries. A young woman who should still be in full mourning for her recently deceased, utterly unlamented and very obviously nouveau riche father. A man who may have been buried as Wilhelm de Vries but was born plain old Danny O’Flynn but made his fortune and his name – literally in both cases – in the diamond mines of South Africa.

Second, there’s a dismissal. Mrs. King, housekeeper to the late Mr. de Vries was caught entering the male servants’ quarters the night before. Everyone believes it was for an assignation, and she’s dismissed without a character or a reference from her respected, respectable and well-earned job. It’s just the first of many such dismissals, as Miss de Vries is determined to set her own course with her own people around her, so ALL of her father’s ‘loyal’ servants will have to go.

But Mrs. King had her own reasons for entering service in this particular household and rising through its ranks. Her dismissal, as much as it most definitely rankles, frees her up to begin step one of a fiendishly clever plan.

Her plan to strip the entire mansion down to its foundations, to take back her own from the man who, by turns, sired her, protected her, abandoned her, and hid her from the world he created for himself. Mrs. King, born Dinah O’Flynn, plans to get the biggest piece of her own she can grab.

While the biggest ball of the season is in progress under the very same roof at the very same time.

Escape Rating B: The Housekeepers is all about the heist. Which means that the characters take a back seat to the caper on this thrill ride, and the story is more about putting the operation together and taking the target apart than it is about the gang who are pulling it off.

At the beginning we don’t know much about any of the principals. We know a bit more by the end, but this isn’t the kind of story where character development takes center stage. After all, we don’t need to know a whole lot about either Danny or Debbie Ocean’s backstory or motivations to get caught up in the capers that they pull off. (And yes, The Housekeepers does ring a lot of the same bells as Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s 8.)

The focus of the first two-thirds of The Housekeepers is pulling together the operation to strip Stanhope House bare to the walls (Stanhope House really did exist although the O’Flynn/de Vries family did not). The final third of the story is, naturally, the edge of the seat thrill nail-biter of pulling off the meticulously planned caper.

But the two principals of the story, Mrs. King and Miss de Vries, are both women who keep their cards close to the vest and their emotions even closer. They release bits of their motivations and their backstories, but reluctantly, as if each bit of history was a diamond to be guarded zealously under all conditions. We see them but we don’t know them, and we don’t care about them nearly as much as I hoped.

But it’s a caper story, which means we don’t need to know their motivations, only whether they can make good on their ambitions. Which Mrs. King manages to do in spite of the odds against her and her gang as well as all the things that can go wrong and inevitably do.

This story, with its blend of Ocean’s 8, Comeuppance Served Cold, The Sting, Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, keeps the reader compulsively turning pages to see if Mrs. King and her gang can manage to pull off the heist of their newly born century. The inner reticence of the story’s principals, Mrs. King and Miss de Vries does leave the story a bit cold at its heart, much like The Forty Elephants, which is based on a true story about an female-led gang operating in New York City during the same time period as The Housekeepers.

Howsomever, like so many of the stories which The Housekeepers reminds readers of, this will make a terrific movie someday, blending the pace of Ocean’s 8 with the costumes of Downton Abbey. I hope it happens!