Nita Prose didn’t intend to write a sequel to her bestselling debut sensation, The Maid. Not even with millions of readers begging for more of the novel’s highly relatable and internationally loved narrator, Molly.
“For me, the question was, can I give readers more without giving them less?” Prose says in an interview with BookTrib. “Early after The Maid’s release, it was clear that readers cared for Molly. I love that they embraced her, cared for her, and protected her. I didn’t want to do any damage to that.”
But while on tour in the UK, inspiration struck. Prose says she was visiting a castle museum in a small town outside of Brighton when she stumbled across an unusual display — the carcass of a mummified rat, and next to it, a single silver spoon.
As she quickly learned, the display was a tribute to a maidservant who had worked in the castle in the 17th century and was unceremoniously fired for stealing silverware. Years later, during a massive renovation to the castle, workers found a rat’s nest. In it? A mummified rat and a single spoon. This snapshot from history gave Prose the nugget of inspiration she needed to write The Mystery Guest.
“I just loved that parable. A true-to-life parable,” she says. “It was also a cautionary tale: be careful of what you assume, nothing is ever what it seems, and the truth will never stay buried forever.”
Molly, now Head Maid at the Grand Regency Hotel and still grappling with the loss of her dear Gran, is forced to examine some of her own assumptions and memories when world-renowned mystery author J.D. Grimthorpe drops dead — “very dead” — on the hotel’s tearoom floor.
As it turns out, Molly has a special mysterious tie to this author, and while the book’s main whodunnit is to determine the identity of Grimthorpe’s killer, Prose has cleverly woven in a secondary plotline that allows the reader to learn more about Gran, the family’s historical relationship to the now dead author, and how Molly ties into it all.
The Mystery Guest is told in two timelines, providing the kind of pacing that compels you to finish the novel in one sitting, while also savoring borrowed time with Gran.
“As a writer, time fascinates me,” Prose says. “How we use time. How we can create on the page some of those strange sensibilities we have as human beings around time. The fact that memory can sometimes be more about the present tense than current reality. The idea that someone like Gran can speak to us as though she is alive and be more present in some ways dead than when she was alive.”
This type of structure — a genre Frankensteining of sorts — is what fuels the storytelling process for Prose. While still mysteries, both books have an uplifting quality — a feel good effect. This “heart” is equally important to Prose as the story itself, she says.
Which is why a third book is not yet confirmed.
“I will only do another one if I can give more rather than less,” she reiterates. “I’m in the process of figuring that out. I think I may have something but I’m in the beginning stages. If I can figure it out, I assure you there will be a third book.”
In the meantime, fans can watch for news about the forthcoming movie based on The Maid. Although the writer’s and actor’s strikes delayed progress, Prose is happy to report that things have begun moving forward. She’s excited to see how the film might further bring her already beloved character to life.
“I tried to write a character that was deeply personal to me, and sometimes when you’re doing something, you stumble upon something that is universal,” she says. “So many readers wrote to me and told me they felt like Molly, knew someone like Molly, or had a family member like Molly. I think we all know someone who has such a good heart but still feels out of place. These are the stories, the characters, I want to keep exploring.”
Prose achieves this and much more in The Mystery Guest, while still giving Molly a formidable journey
of new growth.
About Nita Prose:
Nita Prose is the author of The Mystery Guest and The Maid, which has sold over 1 million copies worldwide and was published in more than forty countries. A #1 New York Times bestseller and a Good Morning America Book Club pick, The Maid won the Ned Kelly Award for International Crime Fiction, the Fingerprint Award for Debut Novel of the Year, the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Barry Award for Best First Mystery, and was an Edgar Award finalist for Best Novel. Twitter and Instagram: @NitaProse.