The Thief Taker: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Following the cabinetmakers of The Grenadillo Box (2004) and the portraitists of The Serpent in the Garden (2005), Gleeson hangs her solid third historical on another group of artisans—a family of silversmiths, the Blanchards, who have fallen on uncertain times in 18th-century London. When an apprentice is murdered, the kitchen maid vanishes and the business's most valuable commission—a huge wine cooler—is stolen, the Blanchards' cook, Agnes Meadowes, becomes the improbable prime sleuth. Meadowes first negotiates with the corrupt character of the novel's title, who's suspected of engineering the crime to profit from recovering the stolen item. She takes a more active role after she begins to suspect an accomplice inside the Blanchard household. Meadowes's eventual success owes more to bravery and doggedness than actual deduction, making her a less interesting sleuth than her fictional peers in the late Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding mystery series, also set in Georgian England. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gleeson's latest unconventional eighteenth-century sleuth is Agnes Meadowes, stalwart widowed cook to the Blanchards of Foster Lane. Picking up on the artisan themes she mined for period detail in The Grenadillo Box (2003) and The Serpent in the Garden (2005), the Blanchards are a family of renowned silversmiths. When an apprentice is murdered, the kitchen maid disappears, and a valuable silver wine cooler is stolen, patriarch Richard Blanchard turns to Agnes for assistance. Agnes quickly negotiates with a local "thief taker" to recover the wine cooler, but her mission becomes more dangerous when Rose's lifeless body is discovered. As the murder investigation twists and turns, Gleeson, a former Sotheby's agent, immerses readers in both the cuisine and craftsmanship of the era. Suspense and historical detail are artfully interwoven into another historical whodunit. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I enjoyed reading about life in the kitchen and "seeing" the world through Agnes's eyes as she learns things about herself and the shocking way her world really works. The book is historically accurate, nobody is a 21rst century character in fancy dress. Gleeson doesn't try to pretty up Georgian London and while there are no gross sex or violence scenes she doesn't sugar coat life in that period either. I found this to be very satisfying and I hope Gleeson comes back to this character in a sequel.
In all, I thought that this book was highly suspenseful and not at all what one might expect from historical fiction. Gleeson write about characters from the past without making them seem as though they're modern or have modern thought processes. That's not to say that Gleeson's writing style is dense or complicated; rather, it's a fast-paced read. However, there was one thing about this novel that I didn't like; the identity of the murderer came out of left field and I thought that the murderer's death happened almost too quickly. It's like Janet Gleeson didn't want to write about that kind of unpleasant thing, but for the sake of the story had to, so she rushed through it as much as possible.
Although I've read a lot of historical fiction, and a lot of mysteries, I still found myself hooked by the premise, not to mention the plot, of The Thief Taker.
However, her inquiries are on hold when her employers ask for her intervention in a matter. Someone stole a valuable wine cooler just before delivery, killing the apprentice watching it. Agnes negotiates on behalf of the Blanchards with legendary Marcus Pitt to have him retrieve the wine cooler that if not delivered means ruin in return for melted silver. Apprentice Thomas Williams escorts Agnes, who finds her protector kindhearted unlike her abusive late spouse. As she continues to cope with Pitt who wants her thrown into the deal, Agnes continues to search for Rose until her slashed corpse is found. Told to cooperate with Pitt and to drop the Rose matter, Agnes ignores her employer even as her son is abducted and her position as cook is jeopardized.
Janet Gleeson uses a deep look at the mid 1700s English lifestyles of the working and artisan classes as a powerful background to a fine amateur sleuth investigation starring an ethical protagonist. Obstinate Agnes learns a lesson about the dangers of good intentions, as she feels she must uncover the truth about Rose. The story line cleverly blends silversmithing and murder to cook up a delicious historical whodunit.