The Housekeepers (Alex Hay) – Book Review

People love a good heist story, whether that’s the Mission: Impossible crew helping to save the world or Leigh Bardugo’s Crows turning high-concept theft into fantasy delight. Increasingly more stories are exploring the structure of the heist story in fresh and exciting ways; Grace D Li’s Portrait of a Thief explores the Chinese-American disapora through a group of students attempting to steal back Chinese art, while Adiba Jaigridar’s A Million to One throws together a group of queer and POC women onto the Titanic to conduct a thrilling heist.

The latest to join this roster is Alex Hay’s debut novel, The Housekeepers, an Edwardian-era-set (1905 to be specific) heist thriller that enlists a group of lower-class women, all entrapped or debased by societal systems, to steal from the household of a wealthy scion of a new money family, creating an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable story set for mass appeal.

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Hays populates this world with a cast of well-shaded characters, particularly the heist crew themselves, whether that’s kind and competent Winnie, talented artist Alice who seeks a better life, or the mysterious Mrs Bone who helps provide the financial backing for the heist. Best of all is protagonist Mrs King, quiet and fiercely intelligent, who leads the heist and provides the emotional fulcrum that drives the novel.

There are a number of twists and turns along the way, a surprising amount of them tucked into the novel’s first act, but it helps build and build the suspense as the crew begin to plot, devise, and then carry out their scheme, with the interlacing relationships between the crew members providing extra tension. Hays employs a lightness of touch here that makes for a pleasurable read; this isn’t to say that The Housekeepers is without darkness or nuance, but it has enough good-natured delight, and enough fun deconstructing its own genre, to create a tonally balanced read with a mischievous wink.

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Replete with likeable characters, a winning plot, and a satisfying approach to both, Hays’ The Housekeepers is one of the year’s best summer reads, combining explorations of class and gender with the giddy thrill-ride of a well-honed heist adventure that, while rooted in the past, helps propel the genre into the future.

The Housekeepers is out on 6th July from Headline.

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