24. A book you’ve heard bad things about: The Maid by Nita Prose
List Progress: 22/30
Up until the last couple of chapters, the 2022 mystery novel The Maid is a solid bit of thriller fun. Author Nita Prose mines a lot of drama, heart and pathos out of having a neurodivergent woman at the center of the story, and the story clips along at a fun and bouncy pace. But the conclusion takes a big swing for the fences and ultimately tries to be smarter than it is, and what would have been a soapy but solid bit of pulp turns into a head scratcher.
Molly is a maid in an upscale hotel, a job she takes a great deal of pride in. She has always had a hard time interacting with people and reading social cues, with everyone except her recently-deceased grandmother, and cleaning hotel rooms makes logical sense to her. (Prose never names it, but Molly seems clearly meant to be autistic.) When Molly finds a VIP client dead in his bed, she is dragged into the criminal underbelly of the shining hotel, a world that operates on coded speech and implications. Nothing about the double-talk of criminal dealings makes sense to Molly, but she has to try and slog through it in order to clear her own name. It’s a rich vein for both drama and comedy, even if Molly can seem a bit too naive and no one else in her life has ever heard of neurodivergent people in the year 2022. Up until the very end, it’s a solid novel and a fun time from a new perspective.
But then the finale. Without going too deeply into spoilers, the ending chapters posit that a character has known a key bit of information for the whole mystery, but has hidden it from the other characters and the audience for no real reason, and then reveals this information to characters and audience for again no reason, just because it is time for the book to end. Prose seems to be aspiring to an Agatha Christie-style twist that recontextualizes the whole story, but Christie novels like that are ultimately about the central twist. This is a fairly straight-forward mystery that also happens to be lying to the audience. The same information could have, and should have, been discovered in the conclusion as the reader learned it, but that wouldn’t have the perceived sexiness of a twist.
There are a lot of good ideas in The Maid, and cozy mysteries are a popular genre for a reason. But this one fumbles the conclusion by trying something big and not really understanding the purpose. It doesn’t make the whole book bad by any means, but it does color the perception the reader walks away with, and marr an otherwise engaging story.
Would I Recommend It: A soft yes.