The Maid, the dazzling and eagerly-anticipated debut novel by Nita Prose, is a neat murder mystery set in a glamorous 5-star boutique hotel that has a dirty secret. The book not only sparked a six-publisher bidding war, but also has been snapped up for a Hollywood movie adaptation starring Florence Pugh in the lead role.
But what of The Recs‘ take?
Molly Gray, the title character in this deft and original crime story, is all but invisible. As a “lowly” maid in the glamorous boutique hotel, The Regency Grand Hotel, she is occasionally seen but is rarely noticed. With her pass card, Molly has unlimited access throughout the whole hotel including the guest rooms and can move around the building easily without attracting attention.
The perfect modus operandi of a murderer you might think. Even the great Agatha Christie herself employed the device of disguising a murderer as a waiter in order to poison some champagne in plain sight but unobserved.
From the off, Prose explores the power of anonymity. Introducing herself as the narrator, Molly intriguingly suggests:
“I’m the one who empties your trash, tossing out the receipts you don’t want anyone to discover. I’m the one who changes your sheets, who can tell if you slept in them and if you were alone last night or not”.
Describing the process of returning each hotel room to a pristine state, erasing any evidence that anyone had ever been there, the ever-dedicated Molly comes to an evocative conclusion:
“I am your maid. I know so much about you. But when it comes down to it: what is it that you know about me?”
Molly’s world of carefully-arranged, orderliness is shattered when she discovers the dead body of a guest in one of the most expensive suites. Not any guest but that of the thoroughly dislikable but wealthy real-estate mogul, Mr Black. This is one mess that not even her exemplary cleaning skills will be able to erase. As events spiral and Molly herself becomes a suspect, she must take the role of her favourite detective, Columbo, to crack the case…
What really stands out in Nita Prose’s The Maid, is the glorious characterisation of her central character. Even before the discovery of the murder, Molly has her challenges. Her fellow employees at the Regency Grand Hotel find her strange, awkward and robotic – a diligent misfit. Left without the guiding hand of her recently-deceased grandmother, Molly is struggling more than ever with social cues.
That we see the world of the hotel and indeed the events surrounding the Mr Black’s death through Molly’s neurodivergent filter on the world is Nita Prose’s clever take on an unreliable narrator. Is Molly trusting the right people? Where do we find the truth in a neurotypical world from a character whose observations are uniquely skewed and uncertain?
Prose puts her protagonist through the ringer, piling test upon trial on our increasingly forsaken heroine. She plunges Molly into so much trouble, even the stoniest reader would fear that all may indeed be lost for her.
The Maid manages to deliver a warmth and even an optimism that is rare in the murder mystery genre. While the resolution to the crime itself in the end is not hugely complex, Molly using the very assumptions that are frequently held against her to outwit her detractors is very satisfying indeed.
Nita Prose’s debut novel, The Maid, is like the Regency Grand Hotel in which it is set: appealing, filled with intrigue and definitely worthy of five stars! A suite mystery indeed.
The Maid by Nita Prose, published by HarperCollins, is released on 20 January 2022.