In the cellar there was no sound at all except her own breathing and the soft rustle of her skirts. After her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, she noticed a niche in the wall a yard from where she stood. She saw something there about the size of her fist. Agnes quietly picked it up. It was wrapped in a cloth and surprisingly heavy. . . a pistol, the hilt filthy with mud and dirt. Suddenly she heard the chinking sound of glasses nearby. There was no mistaking the voices now. Before she had time to call out, another door creaked open and the pair emerged from the darkness.
Agnes Meadowes is cook to the Blanchards of Foster Lane, the renowned London silversmiths. Preparing jugged hare, oyster loaves, almond soup, and other delicacies for the family has given her a dependable life for herself and her son. But when the Blanchards' most prestigious commission, a giant silver wine cooler, is stolen and a young apprentice murdered, Theodore Blanchard calls on Agnes to investigate below stairs. Soon she is inside the sordid underworld of London crime, where learning the truth comes at a high price.
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Starting on the first page, consider how Gleeson reveals the book's society and time frame. What are the social classes of the main characters? Share some examples of how the author establishes characters and settings with her language, tone, and cadence.
Why does Agnes keep herself separate from everyone? How does her relationship with the staff change from the beginning to the end of the book?
After Elsie steals from her, Agnes doesn't appear to be angry. Why do you think this is? Are there other instances of Agnes's compassion? If so, what are they?
Agnes suffered greatly at the hands of her husband. How do her past relationships with men impact her actions, particularly with Philip, Thomas, and Marcus Pitt, during the investigation? Do her feelings toward men change?
What are the most powerful instances of station and class affecting how people interact with each other (for example, Agnes and Rose versus Agnes and Lydia Blanchard; Rose and Philip versus Nancy and Nicolas Blanchard)? How does class affect Agnes's ability to investigate Rose's murder?
When Thomas explains the meaning of the stamps on the pieces of silver to Agnes, it casts doubt on the integrity of the Blanchards. At this point in the investigation, whom do you suspect as the murderer and/or the thief -- Marcus Pitt, Thomas, Nicolas Blanchard, or one of the servants? Ultimately, are you surprised by the identity of the murderer? If not, what clues led you to suspect whom the murderer was?
Theodore Blanchard promises Agnes twenty guineas -- a veritable fortune for her -- if she successfully completes her mission with the thief taker and the wine cooler is returned. However, thought she succeeds, he cheats her. Were you surprised? Agnes knew that Blanchard's business did not pay proper duty. Did she have any other recourse to make Theodore keep his word? What would she have gained or lost from using this knowledge against the Blanchards?
After Agnes is intimate with Thomas, she discovers that Rose once had close ties with him. Why doesn't she ask Thomas directly about Rose? How do her assumptions about Thomas affect her behavior?
Rules were very strict for servants in the Blanchard household -- they were not allowed to marry and, for the most part, had only one afternoon off a week. How were their lives similar to and different from slaves? Do the restrictions on their lives, such as the restrictions on marriage, shock you?
When Agnes is dismissed, what is your opinion of Mr. Matthews when he gives her Rose's money? Do his actions change your opinion of him? Why wouldn't he keep the money?
How might the events and characters in The Thief Taker differ if they had been set in the United States?
Tips for Creating a Memorable The Thief Taker Book Club Meeting
Agnes Meadowes is an accomplished French chef. Experience the flavor of her kitchen by serving some of the dishes she describes: almond soup, boiled cod, jugged hare, roast venison, apple tart, and so on. For a simpler culinary experience, serve scones and English tea, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Delicious recipes can be found on www.joyofcooking.com.
The Thief Taker takes place in eighteenth century England. Invite a historian from your local university to add historical nuance to your discussion.
We experience in intimate detail some of the restrictions placed upon the characters in The Thief Taker because of England's class structure. Enhance your book club discussion by watching The Remains of the Day or Gosford Park, which illustrate the constrictions of the servant class. Compare and contrast the lives of servants in both stories.
If The Thief Taker were a film, discuss which actors you would want to play the various characters and why.