A Spy in the House (The Agency #1)
by Y.S. Lee
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.
I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of this series until I saw a listing for the third book on NetGalley. The premise sounded intriguing, so I decided to give it a read. I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed it. The main character is pretty awesome.
The main character in this series is Mary Quinn, who is saved from the gallows (she’s been condemned to hang to death for thievery) by two ladies, who take her to a school to help her make something of herself. She finds out that the school is a front for an all-female detective agency, of which the two ladies want Mary to be a part of. She agrees, and is trained, and sent out to her first assignment, which is to help uncover details regarding a wealthy merchant who is believed to be committing insurance fraud. It’s believed that he’s smuggling illegal objects from India, then claiming that his ships have been sunk or lost cargo, thereby getting money from the insurance AND the sale of the goods (which haven’t actually been lost). Mary winds up getting caught snooping by James Easton, who is likewise snooping into the same affair, because his brother is in love with the merchant’s daughter, and James doesn’t want them getting pulled into a corrupt family.
So there’s your background. James and Mary grudgingly agree to work together, and adventures, drama and intrigue occur. When the two of them are together, the sparks fly so much that you can feel them. James is arrogant and sure that his way is the best way, and Mary doesn’t give an inch. They are completely fantastic together, and I hope that we get to see more of their interactions in future installments (I will definitely read the second book at some point soon). I also liked that Mary is a very strong female character; she’ s independent, not afraid to take risks, and has a very quick wit and sense of humor. I really enjoyed reading about her, and am wondering just how long she’s going to be able to conceal the secret regarding her heritage. I was also pretty impressed with the mystery of the book, in that I totally didn’t figure out the “villain” until the author revealed it. The atmospheric prose describing Victorian London was spot-on and perfect, and made it so easy for me to see everything in my head while I was reading.
One thing I will mention, however, is that Mary is definitely not your typical girl growing up in Victorian London. She doesn’t behave as a proper girl should, so if things like that are going to bother you, then this is probably not the book for you. But if you just want a good adventure novel with a strong female character and a slow-burning, on-hold romance, then give it a read. I think you’ll enjoy it.