Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review of The Agency: The Body at the Tower

This is another colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel about the exploits of agent Mary Quinn. At a young age, Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school turns out to be a front for a private detective agency. At age 17, Mary takes on her first case (A Spy in the House). In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen's Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder's assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Mainstream YA fans, devourers of historical fiction...anyone, really
High point:  The mystery (of the body at the tower)
Low point:  Not enough James
Reader maturity:  13+

The Body at the Tower is exactly what YA historical fiction should be:  adventurous, exciting, engaging and, of course, historical. Y. S. Lee nailed it again with the 2nd of The Agency series. The main character, Mary, grapples with her differences from mainstream London society and does some pretty awesome things for a woman of any day and age along the way. The budding romance between Mary and James is perfect as well. It buds more slowly than most and in its slow progression, clearly defines the feelings that the two have for each other.

Ms. Lee's portrayal of historic London blends seamlessly with the story, casting a gorgeous (albeit dirty and smoggy and malodorous) backdrop to Mary's adventures. Issues of class and race and poverty are explored in The Body at the Tower, making this not only an entertaining read but an emotional one. Mary's exploits as an errand boy vary from the hi-jinks (fistfights) to the emotionally crushing (hunger and illness). I was constantly amazed at Ms. Lee's skill in entertaining and enlightening the reader, while retaining deliberate historical accuracy with tidbits of events at the time that seem inconsequential but really set the stage for the action.

In my review of A Spy in the House, I commented that the supporting cast was two dimensional. Well, that's certainly not so for The Body at the Tower! All the characters pop off the page, as if running through my living room. It's no easy feat to bring so many characters to life, to give them all a personality and the energy to jump through centuries, but The Body at the Tower delivers with excellence.

Though The Body at the Tower picks up where A Spy in the House left off in terms of Mary's growth and employment, this sequel is complete as a novel in its own right. Readers who haven't picked up the first in the series won't be confused, but readers of the first won't be bored.

The mystery (of the body at the tower) had me guessing until the end and left me both pleased and surprised with the ending. As with the first, the ending paves the way for the 3rd book in the series, and I'll definitely be pre-ordering to read more about the possible shake-up at the Agency and the future of the relationship between Mary and James.

Title:  The Agency:  The Body at the Tower
Author:  Y. S. Lee
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Purchased


  1. Love this review! I just read and reviewed the first one on my blog today! :)