Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Prose, Nita. 2022. The Maid.

Posted: Jan 13, 2024 13:01;
Last Modified: Jan 27, 2024 20:01


Prose, Nita. 2022. The Maid. Toronto: Viking.

The Maid is the best-selling mystery novel by Nita Prose, a Toronto editor and vice president and director of acquisitions at Simon and Schuster. The story follows Molly Gray, a young woman with relatively mild ASD who works as a maid at the “Regency Grand Hotel” in an unnamed city.

The basic plot is that one day Molly finds Mr. Black — a wealthy businessman and regular guest of the hotel — dead in his bed in the hotel room. The police investigate, Molly is accused, and ultimately some bad people are sent away to prison.

Around this core plot, there are a number of important characters: “Gran,” Molly’s grandmother who died about six months earlier and with whom Molly lived from an early age after her drug-addicted mother abandoned her; Mr. Preston, the doorman at the hotel, who keeps a kindly eye out for Molly and seems to have a mysterious previous bond with her Gran; Mr. Snow, the hotel manager, who is always giving “Office”-style professional development talks to his staff; Cheryl, the lazy and dishonest chief maid; Juan Miguel, the (perhaps illegal) dishwasher whom Molly helps out by finding him empty rooms to sleep in in the hotel; Rodney Stiles, the blacksheep bartender on whom Molly has a crush; Giselle Black, Mr. Black’s third (trophy) wife; and, towards the end, Catherine Preston, Mr. Preston’s daughter and prominent lawyer, and Detective Stark, the homicide detective who initially charges Molly.

As these names suggest, this is a novel that plays in familiar, broad-brush territory (reminds me a little, in fact, of I Only Read Murder by Ian and Will Ferguson): it is a comic, almost cozy mystery, rather than an issue novel. Molly’s ASD is really not much more in the story than a mechanism for creating humorous situations and plot development: its main manifestation is a (to my mind somewhat inconsistent) inability to understand facial expressions and metaphorical/non-literal speech that is then played a little for laughs and to create space for the mystery itself. I didn’t get the impression that it is really a carefully thought-through representation of the spectrum, although Molly is probably more affected by ASD than other detectives showing this relatively common device (there is a play on this going on throughout the novel, as Gran and Molly’s favorite detective show is Columbo).

Probably the main function of her disorder in the novel is that it allows for the author to lay clues: because we see the world through Molly’s eyes, the author is able to hide certain elements of the plot through her misunderstandings of what she is being told. This comes to a head at the very end, when the real killer is revealed and, to my mind, Molly’s condition becomes, in essence, the machina for an unexpected deus descends.

I’m presenting this negatively, but the novel isn’t at all bad. It is a fun and entertaining read as a light mystery. But I did think that the ASD element was really a bit of a disappointment in the sense that it never really rose above stereotype or device; as a rule, I find myself becoming less interested in detectives that use the device.





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