The second novel – a crime novel – that my wife and I listed to during the drive down to Sicily was The Maid by Nita Prose and narrated by Lauren Ambrose. It is certainly an entertaining book, though when we started to listen I wasn’t expecting a crime novel; I was expecting a romance or an adventure. It has sold over a million copies and won a couple of awards.
Ms Prose says, “As for my professional life, I work in the publishing industry. I began years ago as an intern, photocopying edited manuscripts and secretly snooping the fascinating margin conversations between editors and writers. Currently, I’m vice president and editorial director at Simon & Schuster in Toronto, Canada, where I have the privilege of working with an incredible array of authors and publishing colleagues whom I credit with teaching me, manuscript by manuscript, book by book, the wondrous craft of writing.”
The central character is Molly, who is a maid in the Regency Grand Hotel, a job to which she feels she was born and is obsessively dedicated. She likes nothing more than restoring a filthy, messy room to perfection. She has such an orderly, Polly-Anna-ish mind that I thought she has learning disabilities until I learned that she had completed some university level courses. Molly lived alone with her grandmother, who has a similar character, is full of simple-minded advice, and who dies halfway through the book. The other characters are a supervising maid, who is lazy and apt to purloin tips that have been left for Molly. There was a boyfriend who stole a large nest egg which Molly’s grandma had been saving for them. Molly’s current crush is the hotel bartender, who has suspicious friends and treats her with indifference. The hotel manager is a harried soul who treats Molly with respect, and there is the hotel dishwasher, a conscientious Mexican worker whose immigration papers are not in order. Mr Black, an older, very rich, disagreeable man in doubtful businesses, and his younger, trophy wife are frequent guests at the hotel. Molly strikes up a friendship with the wife, and Molly finds Mr Black dead in his room. It was murder and Molly is the prime suspect according to a zealous police detective. Fortunately, the doorman has a daughter who is a very clever criminal lawyer and who devises a scheme to prove Molly not guilty and to reveal the actual perpetrator. A drugs operation involving the bartender, Mr Black and assorted outside thugs is discovered. Molly knows who actually killed Mr Black, but for personal, sympathetic reasons, she does not reveal the person at the trial.
Certainly it is a clever device to create a character who goes against our reflex notions of a hotel maid: invisible, unmotivated and slap-dash. This strange character wins our sympathy, though perhaps a little reluctantly in my case. For me, Molly is a little too dedicated to her simple-minded perfectionism to be fully credible. Perhaps if Molly had some learning disabilities she would have worked better for me. The writing is lively, though not of literary quality, nor should it be. The scenes and characters are clear. The plot is well conceived, and tension is maintained throughout. For me, Molly’s motivation not to reveal the true killer was not strong enough, and in the real world the killer would have been identified.
Bill: Good blog, in fact I just ordered The Maid on Amazon.