By Maggie Richell-Davies
Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.
Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries - with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has little power but - unknown to her employers - she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.
Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?
Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.
She must act alone, but at what price?
Praise for The Servant
"A gripping immersive crime drama with a heroine you'll be rooting for from the first line. Highly recommended."
Imogen Robertson, author of Instruments of Darkness
‘Let’s have a proper look at you.’
I step within touching distance. The visitor has eaten something strong-smelling. Fragments are lodged between her teeth. And her breath, and what is happening, jolt me back to being ten years old.
Toasted cheese. The mouth-watering odour hit us as we were hustled into the room. Mary and I had been dragged from bed by one of the older girls and hurried, barefoot, to the overseer’s quarters. There was a stranger with her, in a satin gown too bright and young for her face. From the plates and porter bottles on the table, they had just shared a meal.
‘The dark haired one is the looker, with those striking green eyes,’ said the visitor. ‘Hannah Hubert, did you say?’
‘Yes. A handful, though.’
The stranger yanked at my shift and, when I resisted, gave me a slap.
Fingers searched, and I bared my teeth.
The blow from the overseer knocked me to the hearthrug. Inches from my face was a brass toasting fork and I lunged for it.
‘Don’t!’ A foot stamped on my wrist. ‘Troublesome little tyke.’
I froze, the taste in my mouth bitter. Knowing I could be handled by strangers, like a donkey at a horse fair, and do nothing.
‘I’ll take the other one.’ The stranger shoved a tattered shawl at the whimpering Mary, sounding bored. ‘Can’t be doing with trouble.’
‘Want me to send for her boots?’
‘We are not going far. Stones and filth under those bare feet will fix her mind on what running off would mean.’
‘The parents are dead?’ The voice is curt, dragging me back to Mistress Buttermere’s elegant parlour. ‘You are sure?’
In the chair opposite my mistress, the visitor is ramrod-straight. Hands twisting like snakes in the lap of her black gown. A figure fashioned from whalebone and iron. She means me harm, I know it. The eyes studying me are sharp as a skinning knife.
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Maggie was born in Newcastle and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.
In March, her debut novel, The Servant, won the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award, together with a publishing contract from Sharpe Books.
The story was inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum, with its emotive displays of bits of ribbon or lace left as tokens by desperate mothers in the hope that they might, one day, be able to retrieve their precious child.
Maggie has had short stories published and been shortlisted and longlisted for a number of awards. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
She currently lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells with her husband, but also spent a number of years in Peru, Africa and the United States.
Maggie has a passion for historic houses, having lived for twenty years in a timbered farmhouse built around the time of the English Civil War which provided the inspiration for the home of the dairy farmer in her story.
When not tending their garden, she and her husband enjoy exploring historic sites and houses in the south of England.