A Spy in the House (The Agency Series #1)

A Spy in the House (The Agency Series #1)

4.4 54
by Y. S. Lee

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Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn found herself at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, the cover for an all-female investigative unit called the Agency. Now seventeen, Mary

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Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn found herself at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, the cover for an all-female investigative unit called the Agency. Now seventeen, Mary must put her training to the test. Disguised as a lady’s companion, she infiltrates a merchant’s home in hopes of finding clues to the whereabouts of his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of deceptions, and there is no one to trust. . . . Or is there? Packed with suspense and evoking gritty Victorian backstreets, this breezy mystery marks the debut of a detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the richly described underbelly of Victorian London, Lee's debut novel launching the Agency trilogy introduces feisty Mary Quinn. At the 11th hour, 12-year-old Mary is rescued from hanging (for thievery) and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, a school doubling as a secret training ground for female private detectives. When Mary turns 17, she is selected for a case requiring her to spy on a wealthy merchant by serving as a companion to his spoiled, petulant daughter, Angelica Thorold. Mr. Thorold is suspected of pirating valuable artifacts from India, and it turns out that James Easton, the younger brother of one of Angelica's suitors, is on Thorold's trail as well. Through the many and somewhat contrived plot twists, Mary's skills are tested; she prevails with Easton's help and attentions, partly belying the story's feminist tenor. A subplot revolves around a family secret Mary tries to keep buried. If cultural issues at times feel like they are being addressed with a modern sensibility, Mary's lively escapades, on the whole, will hold readers' attention and whet their interest for the next installment. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Mary Quinn, a young woman alone in Victorian London, is about to hang for thievery when she is whisked away and offered a new life in a women's academy. Eventually she learns the academy is a front for an all-female detective agency. Mary's first assignment takes her to the home of a wealthy merchant, where she is to gather evidence of wrongdoing while posing as a companion for his daughter. It is soon apparent that his household has more than its share of secrets. Mary finds herself forced to partner with James, the brother of her young charge's suitor, who has suspicions about the family. The first in a series, this volume sets up its premise in an unobtrusive manner. There is interesting chemistry between Mary and James as well as hints that they may reunite in a future volume. The descriptions of a crowded, smelly and unsanitary city are both well-drawn and important plot elements, as are the mores of Victorian life. Most intriguing is the unusual ethnic heritage Mary strives to conceal, which adds a fresh dimension. (Historical mystery. 12 & up)
VOYA - Lona Trulove
Victorian London was a harsh place to live, especially for a twelve-year-old orphan. Unfortunately, stealing was a way of life for these young children and it was no different for Mary Lang, the main character of this thrilling mystery. "For the crime of housebreaking, Mary Lang you are hereby sentenced to hang by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul." These are the words of the judge sentencing Mary as the story begins. Mary's life changes forever at that moment. She is whisked away by the wardress and secretly given to Anne Treleavan, head teacher of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Mary receives a good education and, at seventeen, gets recruited to The Agency (an investigative unit) as a spy. Her first assignment puts her in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thorold as a lady companion to their child Angelica who is anything but angelic. The assignment is to gather information about Mr. Thorold's merchant business and missing cargo ships. Unfortunately, the house is full of deception and danger. Filled with action, suspense and romance, this is a fun read. The historical information about The Great Stink of London, the use of Chinese people as sailors during this time period and the Victorian setting itself make this rich with research ideas and discussion for any book club or classroom. The intelligent, strong female character makes this an especially good book for young girls. Reviewer: Lona Trulove
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Mary Quinn, a scrappy 12-year-old orphan and accomplished thief in Victorian London, is saved from the gallows by a stranger and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, an institution dedicated to turning out strong, independent, educated young women. Though reluctant at first, she accepts the challenge and eventually becomes a teacher herself. At 17, she is recruited by the mistresses of the school to join a covert group of female spies known as The Agency. Her first assignment involves posing as a lady's companion to the daughter of a man suspected of fraud and smuggling. She carries out her investigation at night and during stolen moments, but soon finds that she is not the only one on the case. Is James Easton a friend or foe? A dramatic rescue from a burning building reveals the true villain but leaves other questions unanswered. Lee fills the story with classic elements of Victorian mystery and melodrama. Class differences, love gone awry, racial discrimination, London's growing pains in the 1850s, and the status of women in society are all addressed. Historical details are woven seamlessly into the plot, and descriptive writing allows readers to be part of each scene. Readers who liked Phillip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke (Knopf, 2008) will find similar elements in this new series starter.—Cheri Dobbs, Detroit Country Day Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Y. S. Lee's Agency Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)
HL680L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

Meet the Author

Y. S. Lee has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture and says her research inspired her to write A SPY IN THE HOUSE, "a totally unrealistic, completely fictitious antidote to the fate that would otherwise swallow a girl like Mary Quinn." Y. S. Lee lives in Ontario, Canada.

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