Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she's rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary acquries a singular education, fine manners, and a surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency - an elite, top secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results - and at seventeen, Mary's about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady's companion to infiltrate a rich merchant's with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem - least of all Mary.

Packed with action and suspense, and evoking the gritty world of Victorian London, this first book of the Agency series debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits. (from inside jacket)

A great start to an exciting new series, A Spy in the House will not disappoint fans of both historical fiction and mysteries. Seeing two of my favorite genres combined is what attracted me to A Spy in the House, and the book was just as good as I hoped it would be.

Mary is an unusual protagonist. She is almost hanged for stealing, but is rescued by a Good Samaritan who sees Mary's skills as useful in another application. So we have a character who is not a bad person, but one who will do what it takes to survive, even if it is something that is illegal. This, and Mary's wit, intelligence, and strength, makes her a formidable spy and investigator. She is assigned to the Thorold household, ostensibly as a companion to Mr. Thorold's young daughter, but instead she is supposed to search for evidence of illicit trade. Along the way, she forms a relationship with handsome and sharp James Easton, who is also doing a bit of investigating on his own. I loved seeing James and Mary interact, because they are both very similar. Their witty comments back and forth always made me laugh, but together as a team they were able to accomplish a lot.

As for the mystery, I am usually able to guess the outcome before it is written, but this time I was surprised. There is a twist, which is to be expected, but it was perpetrated by a character that flew under my radar the entire book. Luckily, Mary is able to figure it out in the nick of time and save the day.

I thought A Spy in the House was an excellent beginning to a thrilling new series. I can't wait for Mary to solve more mysteries and for her to delve a little farther into her past and heritage, which was focused on a little in this book. The sequel, The Body at the Tower, is already published, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Candlewick Press/335 pages.

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