Sometimes the best way to describe a book is to compare it to its influences. While there are plenty of other clear predecessors to choose from, one easy way to describe Alex Hay’s pacey debut The Housekeepers is as a cross between Ocean’s 8 and Downton Abbey. That is to say, in a nutshell, that it is a novel in which an all-woman team of servants and former servants plans and executes a heist from a London mansion in Edwardian England. None of which detracts from the enjoyment of the action, the tropes of which bring people back to heist stories over and over.
As the book opens Mrs King has been sacked from her housekeeping position in the nouveau-riche De Vries mansion in Mayfair for an elicit relationship she seems to be having with one of the footmen. But this is fine with her as Mrs King needs to be out in the world to pull together her risky plan to steal pretty much everything that is not nailed down from the De Vries house during an opulent society ball. Meanwhile, Miss De Vries, still officially mourning the death of her father, is trying to organise a marriage that will take establish her firmly in the ranks of the landed gentry.
The Housekeepers has everything readers would expect from a heist novel. A long time spent getting the band together, but with each member having either secrets or flaws that could well sink the plan, and establishing how the heist is supposed to work. And then almost the whole second half tracking the various plotters on the night of the heist complete with the requisite moments when the carefully conceived plan does not go to plan leading to a series of unexpected turns, twists, fakeouts, reveals and reverses. In amongst this are other standards of heist-fare: reinvention, secret identities, hidden documents and some discovered wrongs that need to be righted.
The Housekeepers is a well-plotted, page-turning caper novel full of engaging characters set in a setting that seems ripe for the heist treatment. And overall, even though more than a modicum of suspension of disbelief is required, The Housekeepers succeeds by delivering what it promises.