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.
With the second book in her historical mystery series, Y.S. Lee continues the fascinating adventures of Mary Quinn, the half-Chinese, half-Irish former thief turned secret agent. Almost a year after her first assignment, Mary has become more confident in her abilities as a member of the Agency and enjoys the adventure involved in her missions. Her latest job requires her to take on the guise of a twelve year old boy in order to investigate a mysterious death on the building site of St. Stephen's Tower.
One of my favorite aspects of this series is the character of Mary and her transformation as a woman and as a secret agent. She is becoming more mature which shows in the decrease in impulsive decisions. Her experiences over the past year have made her more observant. But, there are still some flaws to her character such as her inability to deal with her mixed heritage which, I hope, will become more prominent in later installments.
Another fun element of this book and this series is the rivalry/friendship between Mary and engineer James Easton. At the end of A Spy in the House, James was about to go off to work on bridges in India and the two were prepared never to see each other again. Well, imagine Mary's surprise when she discovers that James has returned to London and is in charge of a safety review of the building site. This allows for more of James and Mary's hilarious banter and obvious chemistry. The way that they help each other with their own personal missions is very sweet despite the fact that Mary is forced to lie about her true purpose. I do hope that we will see a happy, maybe romantic ending for Mary and James sometime in the series.
Lee gives readers a wide array of secondary characters from many different economic situations which helps provide a realistic portrayal. Some of the most prominent are Mr. Harkness, the head engineer on the St. Stephen's Tower project, and the bricklayers with whom Mary works with on a daily basis during the investigation.
The Victorian setting is once again richly detailed and described. Lee's explanations made me feel like I was actually on the streets of London with the sights, smells, and sounds. I also enjoyed the fact that most of the book took place in the poverty-stricken areas of the city. The contrast between the home lives of the head engineer and the bricklayers was very intriguing as well.
The actual mystery of the death was not as difficult as the one in the previous book. I had my suspicions from the beginning so it was really just a matter of finding the evidence and eventual motive. The way that Mary, and James, managed to figure out the truth was entertaining and impressive at times.
Once again, Justine Eyre does a fabulous job narrating this book. Her ability to switch from upper class to lower class accents as well as change genders at the drop of a hat is admirable. The tone that she brings to the story just made me enjoy it even more.
All in all, another wonderful mystery with intriguing characters, realistic setting, and plenty of romantic potential. I look forward to reading or listening to the next book in this series, The Traitor in the Tunnel.
"May I kiss you?" His finger dipped into her shirt collar, stroking the tender nape of her neck.
"I d-don’t th-think that’s a good idea."
"Why not? We’re alone," His hands were at her waist.
Her lungs felt tight and much too small, "Wh-what if somebody comes in?"
He considered for a moment, "Well, I suppose they’ll think I fancy grubby little boys."
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body at the Tower
3. The Traitor in the Tunnel (To Be Released 2012)
4. Rivals in the City (To Be Released 2013)