Monday 31 August 2009

Review - The Agency: A Spy in the House / YS Lee

Summary - This is a colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel centred around the exploits of 'agent' Mary Quinn. At a young age, Mary is rescued from the gallows by a woman masquerading as a prison warden. She is taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school, Mary learns, is a front for a private investigation agency and, at 17, she is taken on as an agent. In her new role she is catapulted into the family home of the Thorolds to investigate the shady business dealings of Mr Thorold.

Review - Mary Lang is a character that is hard to get a hold of both literally and figuratively. She’s sitting on a secret that she’s never deluged to anyone, she’s working undercover for The Agency and she’s surrounded by individual with suspicious motives all around her. Most fascinating is that this is a life she has chosen for herself - one that she’s trained for and embraced. Lee’s presented the audience with a captivating glimpse at what may have been possible for young girls during the nineteenth century.

Set in the 1850s London the reader is presented with a unique predicament as the Thames befouled the city with a hideous odour. The summer heat combined with the many noxious things (human waste, dead animals, etc) dumped in the Thames River created the Great Stink, a facet of British history most people would be unfamiliar with.

Mary has been placed in the Thorold household as a means of discovering a link between many ships lost and a family’s wealth. It provides an interesting perspective on an orphaned girl’s situation of the time as well as the social politics that ruled every action. The introduction of James Easton brings fun to the seriousness of the investigation. They spark off each other wonderfully, the quips come hard and fast and it’s easy to feel the attachment they unintentionally feel for one another.

At times the procedural nature can slow the evolution of the plot down though anytime the protagonist speaks rectifies this situation. As this is the first in a series, further explanations on the running of The Agency and it’s end goals are probably still to come, as is information on Mary’s ancestry. Lee’s created a vivid world of intrigue, gender constraints, romance and some wonderful dialogue. While the balance of all the themes isn’t perfect, it does make a rip roaring read and the sequel is sure to be much anticipated.!

Published: June 2009
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Origin: Canada
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Catherine (On The Nightstand) said...

Ooh, this looks really interesting! I will definitely have to keep an eye out for it. :D

Lenore Appelhans said...

You reminded me that I really want to read this one!!

The Book Owl said...

This sounds really good. I'll have to check it out.