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The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2)

The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2)

4.6 33
by Y. S. Lee

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Mary’s second adventure as an undercover agent forces her to relive some harrowing childhood experiences as she seeks the identity of a murderer.

Mary Quinn’s new assignment sends her into the building site of the clock tower for the Houses of Parliament dressed as an impoverished young boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and


Mary’s second adventure as an undercover agent forces her to relive some harrowing childhood experiences as she seeks the identity of a murderer.

Mary Quinn’s new assignment sends her into the building site of the clock tower for the Houses of Parliament dressed as an impoverished young boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing — or losing — her identity. Mary’s second adventure offers a fictional window into the fascinating, if grimy, underbelly of Victorian London.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
This is the second of Mary Quinn's adventures in 1859 London. She is an apprentice at a newly established agency of female detectives, and is determined to make good. Within the first few pages we are drawn into a city in which construction of the new British Museum has been disrupted by the discovery of a body where a body should not be. The owners /directors of the agency—2 middle-aged women who are great friends—will be familiar to readers of classic (generally British) mysteries. They appear in books by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Although Mary has decided to take this job, much discussion will occur before approval is granted. The situation could become very dangerous, since Mary will have to disguise herself as a boy in order to get a job with the construction crew. Couldn't be easier, right? But in 1859, women did not work in construction. In fact, they didn't wear trousers at all, and no "real" boy would ever let his hair grow long, as no proper girl would ever cut hers. So Mary cuts her own hair, "borrows" clothing, changes her accent to a workmanlike sort-of-Cockney, and sets off on her adventure. As Mark Quinn, she discovers a whole new world. It can be lots of fun to pretend you're someone else, but it can also be dangerous. And murder is never fun. Complex characters help to make the book a good read. "A Mary Quinn mystery." Recommended. Reviewer: Judy Silverman
VOYA - Lona Trulove
The suspense continues in this second novel about the life of Mary Quinn, an undercover detective operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Mary is now a full member in the all-female detective agency and on assignment in Victorian London. This assignment involves working at a building site on the clock tower of the House of Parliament while searching for a murderer. The assignment has a twist: Mary has to not only dress as a boy, but also live the life of an impoverished boy by going hungry, sharing a lodging room with a man, and being willing to work and fight like a boy, without giving away her true identity. The plot thickens when an old flame enters the story and begins to help Mary uncover the murderer in this suspenseful novel. Lee does a wonderful job of continuing the adventures of this well-rounded, likable character and taking the reader deep into another time and place. This series lends itself to rich historical discussion, both in and out of the classroom setting, and is a good addition to a classroom library. Reviewer: Lona Trulove
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Mary Quinn returns in another case for the Agency, a covert all-female detective agency in Victorian London. A man has recently fallen out of the soon-to-be-completed clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. Mary disguises herself as an errand boy and attempts to infiltrate the work site to discover potential suspects. After a rocky start, she finds herself learning much about the workers and the site engineer, Mr. Harkness, including that someone may be stealing building supplies. She also discovers that her old partner, James Easton, has returned from India after suffering from a bout with malaria. The two quickly join forces to try and solve the murder. This second book is much stronger than the first, both in terms of character development and the central mystery. Mary grows and struggles, first to come to terms with her past and secondly with her growing feelings for James. The two have a fiery relationship that threatens to boil over at any moment as they move from sparring to kissing, sometimes in the span of a page. Through Mary, readers also get an up-close glimpse into the darker side of Victorian London, particularly through her relationship with fellow errand boy Jenkins, who is the sole breadwinner for his family. Mary proves that she is definitely a detective to keep an eye on.—Necia Blundy, Marlborough Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
In this second series installment, Mary Quinn begins another assignment with the all-female detective agency in Victorian London. This time she uses her skill at male disguise to gather information about issues impeding progress on building the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The mysterious death of a workman is the impetus, but there is speculation about widespread corruption. Mary's disguise brings memories of her difficult childhood, and she battles those as she tries to understand an intricate web of theft that may have led to murder. Complicating things is the appearance of her old acquaintance James Easton, as a safety inspector for the building site. James has returned from India, weakened by a bout with malaria but still attracted to Mary. As in the first volume, the sights, smells and grim lives of London's poor are richly detailed and surround the action. Mary is a reflective character, grappling with many issues, including her still hidden ethnicity. Occasionally said details and reflection slow the action, but the storytelling and characters are interesting enough to reward patient readers. (Historical mystery. 12 & up)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Y. S. Lee's Agency Series , #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt


Midnight, 30 June 1859
St. Stephen's Tower, Palace of Westminster

A sobbing man huddles on a narrow ledge, clawing at his eyes to shield them from the horror far below. It is dark, thus his terror is irrational; even if he wanted to, he could not make out what he's done, let alone note the gruesome details. Still, his mind's eye insists on the scene: gory, explicit, final. Imagination, not remorse, is at the core of his violent hysteria.

Within the hour he will exhaust himself and even fall asleep for a few minutes. When he wakes - with a start - reason will return and bring with it a degree of fatalism. Two paths now lie before him, and the choice is no longer his. He will pick himself up, carefully not look- ing over the edge. He will right his clothing, inspect his hands with care, and return home. And then he will wait to see what the future holds.
And he will vow to reveal the truth - but only at the time of his death.


Saturday, 2 July
St. John's Wood, London

The freedoms of being a boy, reflected Mary, were many. She could swing her arms as she walked. She could run if she wished. She looked tidy enough to avoid police suspi- cion but shabby enough to be invisible to all others. Then there was the odd sensation of lightness that came of having cropped hair; she hadn't realized how heavy her own hair was until it was gone. Her breasts were tightly bound, and even if they did ache a little at such treatment, she could at least scratch herself with impunity, scratch- ing in public being one of those Boy Things she ought to enjoy while she could. It was therefore a shame that she wasn't enjoying the situation. Wearing boy's clothing was comfortable and amusing, and she'd enjoyed her esca- pades in breeches during her first-ever assignment. But this - today - was entirely different. It was serious, and she still had no idea why.

Her instructions were simple enough: to costume her self as a twelve-year-old boy and attend a meeting of the Agency at three o'clock this afternoon. No further expla- nation had been offered, and by now, Mary knew better than to ask for more details. Anne and Felicity always gave precisely as much information as they deemed appropri- ate. Of course, such knowledge hadn't stopped her from fretting about the possibilities yesterday, overnight, and all this morning. Over the past year, she'd delighted in her training: tests, lessons, and brief assignments that offered a taste of the life to come. But there was little pleasure in her this morning. What did Anne and Felicity want? And what sort of assignment could be connected with her present guise?

The Agency had been created and was staffed entirely by women, and its genius lay in the exploitation of female stereotypes. Its secret agents disguised themselves as maids, governesses, clerks, lady companions, and other humble, powerless characters. In most situations, no mat- ter how dangerous, few people would suspect a subservi- ent woman of being intelligent and observant, let alone a professional spy. With this as the Agency's guiding philosophy, it made no sense whatsoever for Mary to be dressed as a boy.

She raked her fingers through her hair, then stopped abruptly midstroke: that was a girl's gesture. And the only thing worse than not understanding what she was doing was compounding it by doing a poor job, too. As she neared the top of Acacia Road, where the Agency was headquartered, Mary pressed her lips together and took several deep breaths. Her cowardly impulse was to turn and make one last circuit of Regent's Park, to spend just a little more time thinking matters through. As though she hadn't already been marching about St. John's Wood for the past two hours. As though physical movement might still her mind and soothe her nerves. As though she was calm enough to sort through the swirl of emotions cloud- ing her brain.

It was time to act, not to think. A few brisk steps took her to the house with its wrought-iron gates and polished brass nameplate: MI S S SCR I M SH AW'S ACADEM Y FOR GI RLS. The Academy had been her home for years now. But today, looking at the nameplate, she willed herself to look at it as a stranger might - specifically, as a twelve-year-old boy might. The house was large and well kept, with a tidy garden and flagged path. But in contrast with those of the neighboring houses, the front steps were swept but not whitened - an essential task that proclaimed to the world that one kept servants and kept them busy rewhitening the steps each time a caller marred them with footprints. The Academy's irregularity here was the only sign of the most unusual institution that lay within.

Suddenly, the front door swung open and disgorged a pair of girls - or, rather, young ladies. They were neatly dressed, neither at the height of fashion nor in the depths of dowdiness. They were having an animated conversa- tion. And they looked curiously at Mary, whose nose was still inches from the closed gate.

"Are you lost?" asked the taller of the two as they approached the gate.
Mary shook her head. "No, miss." Her voice came out higher than she wanted, and she cleared her throat hast- ily. "I was bid come here."
A fine wrinkle appeared on the girl's forehead. "By whom?"
"I mean, I've a letter to deliver."

The girl held out her hand. "Then you may give it to me."
Mary shook her head again. "Can't, miss. I'm charged to give it to Mrs. Frame and no one else. Is this her house?" She'd spent all morning working on her inflection, trying to get the accent right while keeping her voice gruff.

The girl looked imperious. "You may trust me; I'm the head girl at this Academy."

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Y. S. Lee was born in Singapore but brought up in Canada. She also lived briefly in the United Kingdom. An academic with a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she wrote MASCULINITY AND THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS IN VICTORIAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND FICTION. She lives in Ontario, Canada.

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The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
I look forward to reading the first book in this series, although not having read it did not detract from reading book 2. This is a clever twist on private investigation agencies, both because it is all women and because of the restraints of the time period. The puzzle is interesting, the plot sufficiently complex, the characters well developed, and the bit of romance just the right amount to not get in the story's way. All in all, a good read. Now I'm off to A Spy in the House book 1
Cassandra_Serenity More than 1 year ago
I read this book quickly, because I couldn't put it down, and enjoyed every moment of it. The setting is brilliant, the character complex, and even when I knew who the killer was I still had to see how they figured it out. The romantic connection between James and Quinn is filled with 1900's charm, heartache, frustration, and absolute love. I can't wait to read the next one.
BooksAreMyLifeSS More than 1 year ago
This is a fun, smart, well-written mystery series. I love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really good! It was written really well! The only part i didnt like was the ending. It ended in what seemed to me to be the middle of the book. I didnt like the way it ended either! I dont want to give anything away so i wont say why. Overall, i really enjoyed this book and completely reccomend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the book verymuch and I really really don't want to wait almost three months to see how the story ends. Hopfully James gets better as his aggogance and enderment for Mary adds life to the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mcmullin More than 1 year ago
The Body at the Tower, is the #2 in Y.S.Lee's trilogy. It is a nail biter and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I highly recommend books #1 thru #3. How about a continuing series!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an easy enjoyable read. Kept me interested. I liked it because I've been reading such long mind boggling books and needed a break but still wanted some mystery. I have never read any of these younger type books but it was fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good!!!
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I enjoy this stories plot and characters. Great read.
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I love this series and i thought thah it was wonderfully written, but i thought the ending was a little careless... like the auhor didn't know ow to clos off
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