A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y. S. Lee
Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary acquires a singular education, fine manners, and surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.
With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary.
Packed with action and suspense, and evoking the gritty world of Victorian London, this first book in the Agency series debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits.
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I discovered this book while visiting the public library the other day. I’d never heard of Y. S. Lee before but I was thoroughly intrigued by the premise of A Spy in the House. I always enjoy period mysteries, probably because I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger (and now a lot of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books). The Agency series is a great YA entry into the genre, filled with adventure, mystery, and lovely period details.
Mary is a great protagonist. We first meet her when she’s 12 and about to be hanged for stealing. The opening is really captivating and it thrusts the reader right into Mary’s world and outlook. In the next chapter, Mary’s 17 and about to embark on her life as a member of the Agency. You can still seek glimpses of her younger self but she’s a much more interesting character at 17, at least to me. Throughout the novel, Mary experiences the highs and lows of her new life and learns a lot about herself and those around her.
The overall mystery is quite good. Mary’s tasked with monitoring the Thorold household but, of course, she gets in a little overhead. After all, without that, where would the fun be for the reader? The strong plot is aided by a myriad of characters, each of whom bring a little something different to the Mary’s life. I quite enjoyed James and George, in particular. They’re brothers and so different from one another.
The next book in the series, The Body at the Tower, is at my local library and I can’t wait to read it!