The Agency: A Spy in the House
By Y.S. Lee
Publication date: March 9, 2010
My rating: *****
Twelve year old Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows and offered the opportunity of a lifetime: an education at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. On the surface Miss Scrimshaw's looks like any other institution for the betterment of young women but it is also the secret home of The Agency, an organization of female investigators. When Mary is seventeen she is enlisted to join its ranks and sent out on a mission to glean information from the home of Mr. Thorold, a businessman suspected of illegal activities. Mary's cover is serving as a companion to Angelica, the spoiled daughter of Mr. Thorold. Mary quickly realizes that all is not as it seems in the Thorold home. Everyone seems to have secrets, even Mary herself. With time running out on the investigation, Mary finds a potential ally in handsome James Easton but can she trust him?
A Spy in the House is the first book in the Agency mystery series set in Victorian London. Mary Quinn has led a very unusual life, starting out as a pickpocket and thief and then being trained as a proper young lady and a spy. She is intelligent, brave, and witty. I found her to be an engaging heroine and I enjoyed her relationship with James. Their conversations sparkled with humor and the chemistry between them was fantastic. The Thorolds are interesting characters with contradictory behavior that keeps the reader guessing. The historical details add to the story but I felt that the focus was on the mystery rather than on any historical events. It is set during 1858, the summer of the Great Stink in London where the Thames smelled incredibly foul due to sewage and pollution. The plot also involved the plight of Lascars, sailors of Asian origin who often settled in Britain and married British women. I had never heard of Lascars before so I found that part of the storyline to be particularly interesting. Mary's own background is a mystery that is hinted at and finally revealed but I thought it was very easy to figure out. Her own struggles to accept herself and her past really added depth to her character.
I found A Spy in the House to be a delightful mystery with a fantastic heroine and a strong message of female empowerment and racial equality. I look forward to reading more about Mary as the series continues. If you like a good mystery and strong female characters, you'll enjoy A Spy in the House.