A middle aged cook in 18th century London discovers a scandal surrounding a missing woman and stolen wine cooler, and she sets off to solve the mystery. Agnes Meadowes begins work as a cook for the Blanchard family in 1750. Her employers are in the silversmith business along Foster Lane. She goes out each day for groceries and notices a beggar girl and man lurking around the residence. Harry Drake and his daughter, Elsie, watch the Blanchard residence to learn who comes and goes at what hour. Nicholas Blanchard, his son, Theodore, and his daughter in law, Lydia, discuss moving to another, smaller location in order to recoup for lack of commissions. Their sole success is riding on one silver wine cooler commissioned by Sir Bartholomew Grey. It is finished, but no one has picked it up.
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That night, Harry Drake breaks into the Blanchard residence, murders the watchman and steals the wine cooler. Rose Francis, the kitchen maid, steals out of the house at the same time. It is unrelated to the break in. She is pursued by an unknown man and murdered by the wharf.
The next morning the theft is discovered. Agnes notices Rose is missing, and Philip is cleaning muddy boots in the corner of the kitchen. Rose's disappearance is hushed up by the staff. While Nancy, a maid, is cleaning Nicholas Blanchard's room, she notices a pistol missing from its case.
Benjamin Riley and Thomas Williams are professional journeymen who take new silver pieces to Goldsmiths' Hall for inspection. Agnes approaches Benjamin to ask if he knows Rose's whereabouts. She asks Lydia Blanchard for a day off to visit her son but receives no response. A day later she speaks with Thomas Williams and meets Justice Cordingly. Theodore Blanchard and Justice Cordingly invite her to assist with the wine cooler issue. They want her to go to Southwark and ask Marcus Pitt, a thief taker, to locate the stolen item. Marcus may have stolen it himself for all they know, but they plan to pay money for its return. She is given time off to conduct her investigations with Philip as her guard.
After meeting Marcus and asking for his assistance, they walk over London Bridge and meet Elsie Drake. Agnes tries to get information, but she is not successful. A day later Elsie is searching for lost items on the wharf, and she spots a dead body. She steals the woman's boots, clothes and silver box. When she meets Agnes, she gives her the box and claims Rose gave it to her. Agnes does not believe her, and she soon discovers Rose's body.
Thomas Williams befriends Agnes and offers to let her son stay with his landlady. Continuing her investigations, Agnes overhears Mr. Matthews, the butler, and John, the footman whispering in the cellar. They hide a pistol in the wall.
Thomas and Agnes go to meet Marcus Pitt. She is taken inside his house and threatened. Agnes is scared they will kill her even though she has brought money for the wine cooler. She is locked up but soon released and given directions to a nearby house. The wine cooler is inside, but they also discover Harry Drake's severed head stuffed up the chimney. Marcus Pitt approaches and tries to rape Agnes. Thomas returns with police support.
Several days later Agnes visits Rose's previous employers and learns Rose may have been engaged. While on her day off, Agnes walks near the water with her son, Peter. He is kidnapped by a cloaked man. Agnes and Thomas visit Marcus Pitt, but the cloaked man turns out to be Philip. Thomas and Philip fight, and Philip is killed after admitting he killed Rose out of jealousy. Agnes is relieved of her duties for being too meddlesome. She goes off to live in a small house with Peter and Elsie.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story moved at a fast pace, which really drove the action along. Interspersed along the way were details about upper and lower class life.
Best scene in story:
A favorite scene was when Elsie Drake walks along the River Thames searching for things to sell. She wanders along picking up driftwood and coal, and just as she is about to leave discovers a dead body. She digs through the sand and steals the woman's belongings. It is very realistic and sad, yet interesting as well.
Opinion about the main character:
Agnes is resourceful, but her actions do not seem plausible at times. She appears too meek on one page and too bold on the next.