blo Teens Read and Write: The Agency: A Spy in the House

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Agency: A Spy in the House

The Agency 1: A Spy in the House
by Y.S. Lee
pub: March 2010/Candlewick
Teen Fiction/Mystery
354 pages

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test.
Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?

After her rescue from a death sentence, orphan Mary Quinn spends the next four years at the girls academy and finds she wants more out of life than the minimal options for a Victorian era young lady. Luckily, the Academy partners with the Agency which is an undercover spy network for special academy candidates.

Mary gets her first assignment to infiltrate a household as a bratty rich girl’s companion and find out what nefarious deeds the girl’s father is up to in his business dealings. The writing is very good and captures the Victorian setting well – customs, dress, language, mannerisms and certainly the class structure.

Mary isn’t a James Bond 007 type of spy but she is clever, brave and persistent in her pursuit of the truth. James is the arrogant-but-charming gentleman with whom Mary starts a subtle romance as they work together to solve the mystery. Their banter is cute and James a worthy love interest.

The Agency is a fun mystery with lots of clues and red-herrings to keep things interesting, complex characters and a good twist at the end. Lee captures the Victorian era very well and at times that slows the plot – so much proper etiquette and small talk can get a bit tedious. And sometimes things we already know are repeated to new characters. So while not fast-paced, it is steady and has a lot going on.

When the (surprise) villain is finally revealed we go through the standard explaining-while-I-really-should be killing-you-and-escaping routine but that’s just part of this cozy mystery genre. It’s a bit cliché but still enjoyable.

The girl-power theme is strong and this is definitely more entertaining mystery than hot romance. But James is back in book two so perhaps things will heat up. In the end, we find out Mary’s big “secret” about her past which I didn’t think was that horrendous, but then I had to remember to put it in the context of Victorian times.

The Cover:  The top cover is the US version, the bottom the UK. I don’t care much for either. I like the red in the UK cover but overall I find them boring.

First Lines: She should have been listening to the judge. Instead Mary’s attention was focused on the flies swarming around her ankles in the prisoner’s dock and their primary interest: the pool of stale urine at her feet. It wasn’t hers.
Interesting and a bit gross but it captures the grittiness and despair of her circumstances. I like it.

Bottom Line: An engaging cozy mystery with a smart female lead, good twists, thick with the Victorian Era setting, and heavy on girl-power.

Y S Lee was born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver and Toronto. In 2004, she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture. This research, combined with her time living in London, triggered an idea for a story about a women’s detective agency. The result, A Spy in the House, is her first novel.
On The Web:

The Ayslee2gency 2: The Body in the Tower comes out August 2010.  You can READ AN EXCERPT HERE.

Mary’s second adventure as an undercover agent forces her to relive some harrowing childhood experiences as she seeks the identity of a murderer.
Mary Quinn is back, now a trusted member of the Agency, the allfemale detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Her new assignment sends her into the grimy underbelly of Victorian London dressed as a poor boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing —or losing —her identity. Mary’s adventure, which takes place on the building site of the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament.


YA Book Queen said...

Nice review! Sounds like a fun mystery book :)

Tales of Whimsy said...

Cute review. I can't wait to read my copy :)

Stina said...

Great review. I'd never heard of the series until now. :)

Bookish in a Box said...

I just finished this, and I agree, it's enjoyable!

Aleksandra said...

Great review! I have it on my wishlist!

Golden Eagle said...

That sounds like a really good book! I loved the review! :)

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds like a fun mystery.
And I agree with the covers, as for the US one I am getting thsi strange old, like 70s or so feeling

Rachel Heston Davis said...

I am squueee-ing right now because this sounds like exactly the type of thing I'd like to read this summer!

Rachel Heston Davis

Sandy said...

I'm really curious about this one-originally I wasn't too interested but for some reason, it's captured my attention completely. ANYWAYS. Nice review! :)

TheWeirdGirl said...

Sounds cute, but probably for girls. I just gave my nephew (he's 17) The Deadfall Project for his birthday. I will have to check this one out for myself.

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