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.
The Victorian era is one of my all-time favorites in history. I love almost everything about it from the uptightness of the morals (in public at least) to the changing economic times. Unfortunately, I had gotten a little burnt out on Victorian England due to an overload of historical romances. Therefore, I was super excited to discover (thanks to my fellow bloggers) this series which provides me with a different approach to the mid-19th century.
The protagonist of The Agency series is Mary Quinn, a former street urchin saved from hanging by an instructor at a unique school for young ladies. Mary took advantage of the opportunity she was given and achieved a proper lady's education. Years after her rescue, she discovers that she does not know what she wants to do with her life. Educated, but lower class women had limited career opportunities at this time and none of them appealed to Mary. Therefore, she is let in on the secret of Ms. Scrimshaw's which is used as a cover for The Agency. She is given brief, but intensive training and put into the field as an observer rather than a primary agent in order to test her instincts.
I absolutely loved Mary from the moment she was introduced. She is intelligent, kind-hearted, and resourceful which makes her perfect for a job as a secret agent. But, Mary still retains some vulnerabilities that make her sympathetic to the readers. One of the most fascinating aspects of her character is her heritage which is controversial for Victorian England and how she deals with it in her personal and professional life.
There are quite a few supporting characters in this first installment including the managers of The Agency (Anne and Felicity) and the family that she works while undercover (the Thorolds). We didn't get much information on Anne or Felicity in this book, but I'm intrigued by their interactions and how they achieved their positions. The Thorold family was full of secrets and I enjoyed trying to figure out the truth behind each of their personas.
And then we come to James Easton who Mary meets in an unconventional way while searching for clues in the Thorold household. James is a young engineer who is also checking out the Thorold family though for more personal reasons. James and Mary run into each other multiple times in this book and, at one point, even decide to assist each other in their quests though Mary is forced to keep her true purpose a secret. These two send off sparks from the moment they meet and there is definitely a hint of potential romance between them despite their social differences.
The Victorian setting of this series is full of rich details. I felt like I was part of the whole scene with the way Lee described the sights, sounds, and smells of 1850s London. Definitely a perk for a history fanatic like me!
The mystery was not the most creative and thought-provoking I've ever read, but it kept me intrigued. There were many twists and turns that Mary and James dealt with throughout the investigation. Lee does a wonderful job of revealing just the right amount of information without ruining the entire plotline for the reader.
Justine Eyre is one of my favorite audiobook narrators and she does not disappoint with this one. She does an admirable job altering her voice to fit the mood. I particularly liked how she was able to switch from Mrs. Thorold's posh accent to little Quigley's Cockney.
This was a fabulous adventure that kept me interested from beginning to end. Mary is a heroine that I am eager to learn more about and the Victorian London setting is full of interest for anyone who loves history. Definitely a great way to break the monotony of historical romance settings and plots.
Provides the potential reader with an idea of the historical setting and the mystery aspect. Very pretty.
He laughed, then became serious once more. "Mary............"
The expression in his eyes set her heart pounding. "Yes?"
Twice he began to frame a sentence, and twice his voice seemed to fail him.
And she thought she understood. What could he possibly say to her now, when he was on the verge of leaving forever? Even something as simple as asking her to write to him carried a distinct sort of promise, the type of promise he was ten years and a half and a world removed from being able to make.
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body at the Tower
3. The Traitor in the Tunnel (To Be Released February 2012)
4. Rivals in the City (To Be Released 2013)