Book Review – The Maid

The Maid
Nita Prose

This New York Times best-seller is getting a lot of press and the folks who like it really like it. As in, book club picks, and a Netflix movie deal with the main character already cast. However, readers who dislike it, really dislike it. Both sides have valid points.

Molly the maid (really) works in a grand hotel and digs her job. The order and cleanliness and restoring rooms to a state of perfection make her very happy. Molly misses a lot of social cues and people around her mostly think she’s weird. It’s never explicit that Molly is neurodivergent but Prose gives so many signs that she might as well hit the reader smack in the face with a big cartoon-style diagram that says “Autism Spectrum”.

One day while cleaning rooms, Molly finds a dead body. Comes with the job when you’re hotel housekeeping staff, honestly. And then Molly gets framed for killing the dead guy. Also a standard occupational hazard. Being the polite, naive soul that she is, with no one to guide her since her Gran passed away some months previous, Molly has put her trust in the wrong people.

Molly then has to figure out who the real murderer is, clear her good name, and figure out how to pay her rent because, with Gran gone, she’s been having trouble making ends meet.

For those who enjoyed the book, this plays out as a cute, cozy-style mystery that mostly wraps up in a tidy package with sharply-wrapped corners and an even bow, just as Molly would like it.

For those who didn’t like to book, however, there’s plenty of sloppy bits that Molly would never approve of. There seems to be a lot of concern from critics about the representation of a neurodivergent character from a neurotypical author. I’m not inclined to agree with this; if authors were only allowed to write characters they could relate to, or with attributes that they completely understand, most books would be really boring. But Prose does kind of overstate Molly’s social awkwardness, all the while making her actions contradictory in order to suit the plot; Molly is good and honest and intensely professional… until she’s not, and these acts seem so flagrantly out of character that it breaks both the flow and believability of the story. Especially since those breaks come as major plot twists.

Pretty much every other character (with the possible exception of Gran, and we see her only in flashbacks; she’s long passed away before the action starts) is straight out of casting 101. They are all integral to the plot, insomuch as you need a bad guy, a hard-nosed cop, and a compassionate lawyer for any murder mystery, but are so cliched and one-dimensional that the story begins to fall flat.

The Maid was as good or better than any of the gazillion cozy mysteries you can grab on Amazon Kindle for a buck a pop, it was engaging and I rushed to get back to it; a sign that I did enjoy the read. It will probably make a charmingly cute movie, but it most definitely was not the best book, or even best mystery, I’ll read this year.