Saturday, July 2, 2011

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

March 9, 2010
335 pages, Candlewick Press

Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

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? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

Okay. If you've read The Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter (and if you haven't, I don't know what is wrong with you), just picture the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Girls placed in the middle of grimy, smelly, decadent 19th century England. Make Cammy an ex-thief with a hidden family background, put Zach in gentleman tweeds and a carriage, and add in the possibility of smugglers.

Yeah. Pretty cool, right?

Mary upholds herself throughout the story as a put-together, independent heroine. She's been through the worst that the world has thrown at her and bears her scars, but is not emotionally dependent on the love interest (though he is pretty awesome himself when it comes to the detective business). Of course, there are a few instances when you can't help but shake her when it comes to speculating about said love interest - "is he in love with her? No, he can't be. But what if he does care? He does care, doesn't he?" Fortunately, these brief instances are overshadowed by the plot line.

Everyone has a secret, even the intrepid detective herself - and believe me, hers is one I definitely wasn't expecting. The plot line keeps you guessing right up to the climax, which is something I've been looking for in recent mysteries and, unfortunately, usually falls flat of the target.
Warnings: There is some mention of social issues that you know did happen, but might be a little squirmy to read about. The master of the house owns a questionable book detailing the forced liaisons between slave owner and helpless slave woman. One of the maids is thrown out for being six months pregnant by said master, and a few people actually accuse Mary of being her replacement. Things like that. So you definitely know this isn't for younger readers.

Recommended for... Fans of Sherlock Holmes. Anyone who likes Ally Carter (though it's a different style and time period). People looking for a bit of girl power, adventure and a proper serving of romance.

Final notes. 
4. Just one stroke off.

- Intriguing cast of characters.
- Likable heroine.
- Unexpected twist of fate.

I guess the reason I couldn't give this a full, paint stroke...rating was simply because at one point, the plot just seemed to drag. Maybe it's because it's me and I'm a bit impatient to get on to the next read waiting in my book bag, maybe because the speculation behind the whodunit was taking too much time for my fancy. Eh. You can decide for yourself.


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