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

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Overview

Introducing an exciting new series! 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, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary...

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

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Overview

Introducing an exciting new series! 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, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

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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
The Barnes & Noble Review
A Spy in the House, the first of Y.S. Lee's "The Agency" novels, is pure confection, an historical romp through England at the height of The Great Stink that imagines a secret spy ring for women tucked away where few notice but powerful factions clamor for their services. Mary Quinn was rescued from the gallows at the age of twelve, allowed to grow up in The Agency's cover, aka Miss Scrimshaw's School For Girls, and at seventeen, is tasked with her first assignment: disguise herself as a lady's companion and determine the whereabouts of a rich merchant's missing cargo ships. With pacing con brio and a perpetual sense of fun, Lee evokes the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian London and creates, in Mary, a capable heroine prepared for almost anything, even budding romance with a young engineer - but not for jarring reminders of her true, mixed-race heritage and the key to her permanent belief she will never belong in either world. Lee returns to this theme of displacement in The Body at the Tower, the even-better second volume that will be published in August. Mary is a year older, more experienced, yet still vulnerable, prone to mistakes and in much need of all her wits and years of espionage training. The capper to the trilogy can't come fast enough -- and will cause great sadness when it brings an end to this exciting series.

--Sarah Weinman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441890375
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 12/1/2010
  • Series: Agency Series , #1
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 12 - 15 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Y.S. Lee has a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature and Culture and says her research inspired her to write Book One of The Agency trilogy. “Women’s choices were grim in those days, even for the clever,” she says. “The Agency is 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 54 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(32)

4 Star

(16)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jennifer Rummel for TeensReadToo.com

    Mary Quinn used to be a thief. In fact, she was rescued from certain death by hanging and brought secretly to a special school for girls. Here, she worked hard to change her station in life. Now, she's a young lady without a job and doesn't know where to turn next.

    Fortunately, her advisers at the school let her in on a secret. They have a spy agency where she'd be a perfect fit. They help out Scotland Yard and gather information. With her former skills, Mary would be perfect for the agency. Plus, they have a position in mind for her, after she undergoes training.

    Mary emerges and makes her way as a paid ladies companion to Angelica Thorold, a spoiled girl. Mary's duty, besides her job, will be to gather any intelligence on Angelica's father and his business in regards to smuggling items.

    Miss Thorold doesn't take to Mary. The two of them attempt to work out their differences in a variety of ways while Mary snoops about the house. When she finds nothing, she goes investigating at Mr. Thorold's business when she's caught, not by security, but by a man with similar concerns. He offers up a partnership where they share information each uncovers. Mary reluctantly agrees, but with time running out, will she risk too much and find her identity discovered?

    I read this mostly in one sitting and then wanted the next book immediately. I love both spy novels and the Victorian England era, and combining the two equals pure magical entertainment. A great feisty heroine, lots of danger, plenty of mysteries to untangle, and a little romance creates a wonderfully perfect first edition to a new series.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    Skit123

    It was amazing book that suprises and keeps you in supsense. I loved it and would recommend to ages 12 and older.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A wonderful Victorian mystery read.

    What I loved:

    The story was unique and thrilling.
    The writing style was great!
    The characters are interesting and not boring at all. Even the maids had a place in this story.
    The suspense amazing.
    It was interesting and fun to see the Victorian era in general and in London specifically.
    The few last chapters were breath taking. I had to stop myself from sneaking on the next page. I wasn’t 100% successful >_<”.
    It was set in London! What’s not to like?!

    What I disliked

    I would be crazy if I hated one thing about this book.


    Conclusion:

    If you’re looking for a wonderful YA thriller and mystery, this is your book. You won’t regret it at all even if you don’t enjoy stories set in the Victorian era.

    I should thank Y. S. Lee for writing such great books, I’m definitely a big fan of yours Open-mouthed smile.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Great Light Suspenseful Read

    I love the Mary Quinn/Lang book and i enjoyed James as well. A wonderful read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2012

    Review

    I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(:

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Fun Mystery Series

    In A Spy in the House, Lee tells a story filled with mystery, intrigue, and romance. Mary, a girl who was saved from a death sentence, has been educated at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. At the school she's given the education of a wealthy girl, and is encouraged to work in a field she enjoys. The idea of a school that educated girls regardless of their social class, or connections, was an aspect I enjoyed. Not only that, but the school existed to give the women some independence. In a time when the role of women was primarily in the home, it was refreshing to read about a group of women who acknowledged that they deserved more options than being a wife/mistress/governess. It also made me appreciate the educational opportunities that I've been given.

    The writing was another big part of why I enjoyed this book. In my opinion, a good mystery needs an interesting setting, strong characters, and should make you question the motives of those characters. A Spy in the House contained all of these characteristics, and more. The description of Victorian London, made me feel as though I was there, stuck in warm weather made worse by the smell of the polluted Thames. Throughout the book, I also questioned the motives of each character. Each time a new piece of information was discovered by Mary, I attempted to figure out how the story would end. Of course, I was completely wrong.

    I really enjoyed reading about Mary. In the early chapters of the book, the reader finds out why Mary was sentenced to death by hanging. We also see how Mary's education has helped her to grow, and become stronger, and more sure of herself. I particularly liked that she was looking for a work that she found fulfilling. She had attempted many of the jobs that were acceptable for women, but she wanted something more from her work. It takes a lot of courage to go from a job that you know, to something that's completely foreign. Mary was also kind to her young maid, Cass. This was a characteristic that was uncommon in the wealthy women in the book. Cass reminded me a lot of Mary at the start of the book. Cass was a bit unsure of herself, and given the right opportunities, had the potential to be very clever, much like Mary had been.

    There were a few times when I thought that the plot could have moved a bit faster, but aside from that I really enjoyed this book. It's another great 2010 debut, and I look forward to the sequel, The Body at the Tower, which is being released this August.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2014

    Y.S. Lee is the best new mystery author to hit the book/nook in years

    A great trilogy. Please continue with The Agency books. Y.S. Lee is one of the best writers I have read in years.

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  • Posted October 17, 2014

    Check out this book.

    Very good reading. Enjoyed it. A++

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  • Posted October 17, 2014

    Captured

    I thought it was well written and captured me from the beginning and held my interest. Will be reading more of this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    I have just recently started reading mystery books and find them most enjoyable. Held my interest and was difficult to put the book down even when necessary.
    Put on your "Must Read List".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2014

    Loved it!

    I enjoyed Mary's story and look forward to reading more of her work as a spy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2014

    will23@gmail.com

    Add me

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2014

    Tuyu

    Yb tuyty

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2014

    Fabulous!

    Fabulous! More please!

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  • Posted May 30, 2014

    Excellent Read

    The whole premise of The Agency in Victorian England is most interesting and foreward thinking. Y.S. Lee has done a great job of creating Mary Quinn as a very likeable and interesting character. Even though this was a relatively short book, I liked it so well, I had to get The Agency Series #2 and I'm sure I'll get The Agency Series #3. If you like good strong female types, mysteries and Victorian England, I think you'll really enjoy this series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    Awesome

    This is one of the very best mystery books i have ever read!!!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Author Y. S. Lee presents an intriguing idea in her series of my

    Author Y. S. Lee presents an intriguing idea in her series of mystery novels called *The Agency*. The essential gist is that of a specialized private agency that employs women as spies in mid-nineteenth century England. The rationale for the characters is that the heads of the group believe in two truths: that women should have more opportunities than just wife, governess, or poverty; and that women are never taken seriously.

    This two-fold belief leads to the ability to hire out the services of this mysterious group's female agents because no one will bat an eyelash at saying things in front of women that they will say in front of men. Is this sexist? Yes. Is it realistic for the time as well? Also yes.

    The first book, *A Spy in the House* follows a young beginner agent named Mary Quinn. Miss Quinn has escaped a very harsh and tragic life on the streets (and gallows) when the Agency took her in as a student and later teacher. Upon finding out the truth of what the school does, Mary jumps at the opportunity presented to her to become an agent. As she is untested, and a novice agent, her first mission is a simple one: she is to observe what occurs around a family that a senior agent is investigating, and report back any suspicious activities she observes. It is a training mission, really. Nothing more. However, a convergence of factors, including her pride and a new possible ally, lead her to a far more involved role than she, or her superiors at the Agency, were prepared for.

    I really enjoyed this novel for a few reasons. One is that it isn't steampunk, but still dealt with some neat themes. Please do no not misunderstand. I am starting to love steampunk as a genre, but so often the cool stories with strong women characters, chivalrous men, and compelling interpersonal plot lines taking place in the past are steampunk. That this author did so in a very realistic portrayal of 19th century England, is terrific.

    I also appreciated that this wasn't some screed against men, and didn't excuse bad women simply because they were mistreated. It is a work that has both good and bad men and women as characters, and treats them thusly. When a character does something particularly selfish, it isn't just passed off as her being a “strong woman not submitting to a man”, but seen for what it is, bad behavior.

    The research the author put in was obvious, and only served to strengthen the work. In fact, the only real criticism I have is that is still don't understand why the one bad guy didn't put a stop to the other bad guy's plans. Yes, there were legal issues, but nothing that should have made the one just endure it so pathetically. But, in a way, the one bad guy *not* being QUITE as ruthless works to the book's theme. And that's all I'll say about that. Also, the ending was a tad rushed. I really would like some more wrap-up than what this book gave us.

    Other than the above, the work was terrific, very meticulously researched, and well-worth a read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Soulkit

    Soulkit gives him a high paw. (Same, night! -yawn-)

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Blossompaw

    "Die!"

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Moonscar

    I can shoot snowballs with my tail! Eat frost, kittehs!

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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