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Monday, July 25, 2011

YA Victorian Detective Novel Thoroughly Charming

(Image from Indiebound)

When 12-year-old Mary Lang gets sent to the gallows for stealing to survive on the mean streets of Victorian London, only one thing can save her: Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Run by two indomitable women, the institution sponsors needy, but clever young women, training them to become secretaries, teachers, governesses, etc. It's only after five years at the school that Mary (whose last name has been changed to Quinn in an effort to hide her criminal past) realizes it's also headquarters for a secret, all-female detective agency. For which she's now being recruited.

Mary's first assignment seems simple enough. While working as a lady's companion to spoiled, 18-year-old Angelica Thorold, she's to listen for any whispers about the girl's father's business. It's hardly the cloak-and-dagger adventure Mary envisioned; in fact, it's a tedious babysitting job that's yielding very little useful information. It's only when Mary discovers a 19-year-old gentleman sneaking into Mr. Thorold's office that the assignment starts to get interesting. When said gentleman - handsome engineer James Easton - suggests a collaboration, Mary's nervous. Can she trust the engaging, but often infuriating Mr. Easton?

Together, the pair delve deeper and deeper into Mr. Thorold's affairs, discovering plenty of suspicious activity. The juiciest tidbits, though, come not from his business life, but from his personal one. In the midst of all the intrigue, Mary makes a shocking discovery about her own past. Desperate to prove herself to The Agency by successfully closing the case, Mary must disregard any personal quests and focus on the task at hand. Distracted by the mysteries of her own history, coupled with Mr. Easton's not inconsiderable charms, Mary's feeling decidedly shaken. Can she keep herself in check long enough to finish the assignment? Or will her nerves be the literal death of her?

A Spy in the House, the first book in Y.S. Lee's The Agency series, enchanted me so thoroughly that I hardly know where to begin with my gushing. It's simply an entertaining novel, from its vivid period setting, to its flawed, intriguing characters, to its taut, engrossing plot. The witty banter flying between Mary and James keeps the tone lighthearted, while adding yet another layer to this already captivating story. I loved everything about the book and can't wait to get started on the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And the next ...

(Readalikes: Its sequel, A Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language (just hells and damns, although there are quite a lot of them), some violence, and vague references to prostitution and opium use

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of A Spy in the House from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!


  1. I've wondered about these. Thanks for the review. I might check one out now.

  2. This looks like a great find! And I'm really glad that it turned out to be as much fun as it sounds like. *dashes off to add to wishlist*

    The Word Fiend

  3. every time i read a review for this book, i am more interested than the last time! i need to make this a priority.

    i was not aware of the romance element either...bow chicka bow wowww

  4. Nice blog. I'm a follower now. I have a book blog if you want to check it out! Clean Teen Fiction

    I'm a BYU alumni too. Go Cougars!

  5. This is one of my favorite series! Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. :)

  6. I usually do not read mysteries but I ended up enjoying this one. It was clean and not such a easily solved ending. There was a goofy part when they are running for their lives in a burning house but stop to kiss? Come now.
    Thanks for the recommend, I plan to read the next one in the series.


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