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"The Housekeepers" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

“The Housekeepers,” by Alex Hay, is a fun debut novel in which “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “Downton Abbey.”

Set in London in the 1900s, the book opens as Mrs. King is fired from her job as head housekeeper for a perceived indiscretion with the head butler. She decides to exact revenge by robbing from the stupendous mansion at an upcoming costume ball. The elaborate ball, hosted by young Ms. de Vries, following the death of her shady but extremely wealthy father, is being planned to entice a husband for herself.

The house is the largest and newest on Park Lane built with diamond mining money. Surrounded with pillars and windows and seven floors tall, it’s filled with marble, silk wallpaper, electricity, and miles of glass. Objects made with gold, silver, and jade permeate the mansion. The library is the most extensive in the Mayfair area of London.

Mrs. King is motivated to steal not just because of being fired. She has a secret but strong connection to the newly deceased Mr. de Vries, formerly known as Danny Boyle. Her determination to rob the place grows when she learns of the illegal and cruel, but lucrative, side ventures taking place in the coach house behind the estate.

Born into a family of con artists, thieves, and neighborhood mafioso, Mrs. King recruits five acquaintances, all women, to help her plan her heist—the neighborhood kingpin, an aspiring actress, two trapeze artists and a motivated seamstress with huge debts, one with access to Mrs. de Vries and her living quarters. The super-elaborate heist involves pulleys, fake royalty, fireworks, smoke machines, fire-eaters, and dozens of shady characters hired to hide in the attic until the diversions occur. A camel is even involved in the theft.

In a stunning operation, literally everything—baccarat tables, library books, priceless art on the wall, silverware, jewelry—is stolen from the manor. All that’s left in the 7-story home are echoing marble floors and bare walls.

The planning leading up to the thievery and the actual burglary make for thrilling, entertaining reading. The main characters who contribute to the break-in are unforgettable. This historical novel is not to be missed.

“The Housekeepers” is the first book from Alex Hays, a specialist on female power at royal courts. The novel lends itself to a sequel which I hope Hays writes. I can’t wait to see what happens to the female thieves who never have to worry about money again.




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