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)
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!