I was entirely pleased by Y.S. Lee’s The Agency: A Spy in the House. It has many elements that put together, make it exactly the type of book that I am inclined to devour: a well-crafted mystery, historical setting, and an amusing romance with a certain Darcy/Elizabeth quality. To tie up this satisfying package, it also happens to be the first in what will be a trilogy. Yes please!
Our heroine is Mary Quinn, an orphan who had the very good fortune to be rescued from the gallows to attend Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. At the Academy, Mary receives an impressive education and learns fine manners. After completing her studies, her teachers offer her an unusual opportunity. She is invited to join the Agency, a secret organization of female investigators who work on high stakes cases. Mary chooses to accept the invitation and is sent out on her first job. She is placed in a position as a lady’s companion in a rich merchant’s house, where she is meant to investigate a possible case of international shipping fraud. What she finds is much more complicated and personal, and her work will take her into some of London’s seediest and dangerous parts.
Lee certainly succeeds in bringing London of this period to life. (Could this be due to the fact that she has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture? Likely). The novel takes place during a terrible heat wave, and you can practically smell the stink of the Thames. One of the highlights of the book is the relationship between James Easton and Mary, which has definite shades of Darcy and Elizabeth, as they show a similar cutting banter and the same swing from love to hate and back again. I liked that Lee manages to comment on the limited choices available to women during this time, without making it seem like she is pausing for an Important History Lesson in the middle of her story. This plot really moves, and the secondary characters are well-drawn.
I’m all set to see what Mary tackles next, in The Body at the Tower, coming August 2010 from Candlewick.
For a teaser, click here.
And for a nifty behind-the-scenes look at photos from the cover shoot for that title, take a look here.