In 1750s London, long before there was an organized police force, a cook turns to detection.
A widow with one child, Agnes Meadowes feels fortunate to serve as cook for the Blanchards, well-known silversmiths. When the pretty kitchen maid Rose disappears, only Agnes cares enough to investigate. Her job becomes more difficult when a fabulous wine cooler is stolen just before it can be delivered and the apprentice guarding it is murdered. Agnes can hardly refuse when the Blanchards, whose household fortunes are riding on the sale of the cooler, ask Agnes to act as a go-between with the infamous Marcus Pitt. Pitt is an unsavory character, but he can recover the wine cooler for the value of the melted silver. Although her own husband was abusive, and she is shy of men, Agnes falls for Thomas Williams, the apprentice helping her. When Rose is found with her throat cut, Agnes keeps on the case as she fights off the advances of Pitt and finds reason to doubt Thomas. Not even the kidnapping of her son deters the plucky cook from digging until she reveals the truth and loses her post.
The latest of Gleeson’s erudite surveys of 18th-century life and customs (The Serpent in the Garden, 2005, etc.) includes cooking tips, silversmithing lore and, incidentally, a rousing tale of murder and deceit.