Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.
Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
VILE AND EVIL ARE COMPOSED OF THE SAME LETTERS. ONE BEGETS THE OTHER.
Need a tissue for your issue? Molly, the maid, is at your service.
The Maid is murder mystery debut from Nita Prose. It’s cozy, with an excellent carousel of characters. Giselle was especially entertaining, but certain individuals could have been fleshed out a bit more by Prose. While I didn’t find it to be one of those immersive whodunnits where the reader gets to really play detective alongside our protagonist in real-time, it was interesting to sit back and enjoy the ride that Prose takes us on through the elegant Regency Grand Hotel and its shifty suspects. The prologue is perhaps a bit of a red-herring. For me, it set The Maid up to be a thriller, whereas the main body of the text is much more of a ‘fluffy’ mystery. Instead of an all-seeing, all-knowing maid unravelling a mystery, Prose delivers us hijinks more suited to Clue.
Molly is a sweet protagonist and I say that will all my heart. I saw a lot of myself in Molly and really warmed to, sympathised with and rooted for her. The sections that focused on Molly’s relationship with her grandma brought many a tear to my eye. Yet, Prose’s characterisation of Molly did leave a sour taste in my mouth and ruined what would have been a semi-decent read.
The Maid asserts time and time again that Molly is unlike the rest of society. She does not react to people and circumstances like normal people do, she doesn’t understand their facial expressions and their emotions and she sticks to a very strict routine. Yet, Prose is very inconsistent in this. Prose leans very heavily on autistic stereotypes to build the character of Molly, but not once does anyone mention the words ‘autism’ or ‘neurodivergent’. For some strange reason, Prose dances around explicitly saying it which makes her reliance on the traits commonly associate with neurodivergence mucky territory. Instead, we watch other characters label Molly as ‘different’, ‘weird’ or even a ‘freak’. Yet, everyone fails to outright acknowledge that Molly is on the spectrum or at the very least evidently displaying autistic traits. None of the promotional material even references autism. The only discussion I could find was from other readers who had picked up on this.
The story makes it plainly clear that Molly is on the spectrum but the avoidance to acknowledge it ouright and instead let ridicule run made the whole thing feel a bit gimmicky. The disgusting taunts and jibes from Molly’s co-workers about her social differences is an experience I’m all too familiar with. It was hard to sit through as even Molly herself couldn’t seem to understand their cruelty because of the reluctance to label her as ‘autistic’. It was a glaring elephant in the room that left me feeling uneasy as if autistic traits were being exploited to create a ‘quirky’, socially awkward character for amusement. If the intention was represent neurodivergent women, it fell far too short.
Much like with Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I’ve seen The Maid compared to a lot, the reluctance of authors (and perhaps their publishing houses) to actually identify or ‘diagnose’ characters with autism is really disheartening and suggests an unwillingness to take responsibility for their depiction. By not being explicit about whether or not Molly is autistic, Prose can make her act however she wants even if it goes against the autistic traits and stereotypes she’s heavily relying on to make Molly who she is. For example, Molly is unable to read emotions and tell if someone is happy or not but she’s also perfectly capable of analysing someone’s behaviour to a T and can easily act and deceive her way to an Oscar. I worry The Maid has utilised neurodivergence as a ~quirk~ and I can already see readers tittering away at whoopsie-daisy Miss Molly who is framed for murder because she’s different and doesn’t understand social nuances.
Paired with the clumsy characterisation of Juan Manuel, the undocumented kitchen employee, and how Prose neatly skips over the abuse sub-plot, any enjoyment I derived from The Maid vanishes. The whole thing gives me the ick. Something about harnessing the struggles and stereotypes of minorities on a surface level to move the plot along, but not really diving into said struggle in depths is quite harmful.
There’s no real mystery thriller element to The Maid. It’s a premise full of promise, but let down by poor execution. Is it heartwarming at times? Yeah. It is cozy, camp and has a certain charm to it but its all just a bit too farcical and, by the end, I couldn’t move past Prose’s awkward attempt to shoehorn in traits of autism and the abuse of undocumented workers only to discard it all once the ‘culprit’ was caught and end with ‘they all lived happily ever after’.
Florence Pugh is expected to star in an adaptation. With how much I adore Pugh, I only hope that the movie addresses Molly’s neurodivergence in a more sensitive manner than depicted in The Maid and doesn’t turn it into a gimmick for cheap laughs. As for the book, as sweet as it was at times, I certainly wouldn’t rush to read something by Prose again.