British cook and amateur sleuth Kat Holloway returns in the latest mystery by Jennifer Ashley, taking place in and around London during the early 1900s. Death at the Crystal Palace is the fifth book in the Below Stairs Mystery series which focuses on the “downstairs” staff headed by cook Holloway and the rest of the staff, whose lives intertwine with the “upstairs” aristocratic class and estate owners. Kat and the rest of the below stairs staff keep the manor house running smoothly. Kat spends her days preparing complex delicacies for the aristocratic family for whom she works. Her position within the household makes for long hours in the kitchen, sometimes cooking for dozens of household members and their numerous guests. With all her obligations, she still finds the time to help solve a mystery or two.
Death at the Crystal Palace opens with Kat accompanying one member of the household, Lady Cynthia, to an academic lecture at the Crystal Palace in London. At the conclusion of the lecture, Lady Covington, the widow of a railway owner, approaches Kat and declares that someone in her household is trying to poison her. She is adamant that she needs Kat’s sleuthing skills to help find the culprit. Kat is immediately suspicious of the claim. Is Lady Covington being targeted by someone in household or is it all in her head? Kat makes arrangements with Lady Covington to make a secretive visit to her household under the guise of recipe sharing with the Covington family cook, in order to find out more about the possible plot.
After learning more about the Covington family and their possible motivations for wanting to bring harm to the matriarch of the family, Kat finds herself yet again, at the Crystal Palace for an academic event. With all the Covington family in attendance and able to be observed, Kat discovers another member of the family near death as the result of an attempted poisoning .
While tending to the crisis at hand, Kat’s close confidant, Daniel McAdam, is up to his neck in his own case and recruits Kat to assist him in much larger matters of national security. Toggling between the matter of Lady Covington’s potential poisoning and assisting Daniel with his undercover endeavor, Kat is at risk of having her true identity discovered which could potentially have catastrophic consequences for the future!
This series keeps getting better and better with each book. Author Jennifer Ashley not only gives the reader a complex and intricate mystery to solve, the series is also a great example of historical fiction, detailing the lives and customs of the British at the turn of the last century. Although this book is able to be read as a stand alone mystery, I highly recommend starting with the first book in the series Death Below Stairs.