Review: “The Agency: The Body at the Tower” by Y.S. Lee
Y.S. Lee’s The Agency: The Body at the Tower is both the second Mary Quinn mystery and the second book I finished on my trip. (I posted about the first Mary Quinn mystery, The Agency: A Spy in the House in the spring.) This young adult trilogy is set in Victorian London and featuring newly minted secret agent Mary Quinn. The first book chronicled Mary’s first assignment with the Agency; the second, as you may have guessed, details her second.
In The Body at the Tower, a bricklayer has fallen to his death from the belfry of St. Stephen’s Tower, which is still under construction. Though the Agency has little knowledge of an active building site and no easy way to penetrate one–the agents are all women and specialize in infiltrating domestic settings as ladies’ companions, servants, and the like–one of the two women in charge accepts the job of investigating this suspicious death.
But how does an all-female agency gain access to a building site? They assign the task to Mary. Not only is she young and small enough to pass as an errand boy, she also has experience from her past life: orphaned early in her childhood, Mary dressed as a boy to make her life on the streets a little safer. And so, haunted by memories from her past, Mary chops off her hair, dons a threadbare set of clothes, takes a room at an appropriately seedy boardinghouse, and begins to build a life for herself as Mark Quinn. Mary begins her new job on the St. Stephen’s building site with the aim of uncovering anything she can about the bricklayer’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.
To find out what happens next, you’ll have to read the book!
I enjoyed The Body at the Tower even more than I did A Spy in the House. Spy, to me, read like a first novel, only in that it seemed a tad unpolished. I loved the plot and the characters, but the story felt a little choppy to me. Body was much smoother, easy to get into and stay absorbed in as the pages flew by. Mary seems to have grown up a bit; I quite enjoy it when characters mature and change as a series progresses.
[If you’re particularly anti-spoiler, even the teeny tiny kind, skip this paragraph. It’s mentioned on the author’s website, so it’s really not much of a spoiler, but just in case, you’ve been warned!] I was really happy to see that James resurfaced in Spy. He, too, seems to have matured. I love Mary and him together, and they just get better in the trilogy’s second installment. In particular, I found myself enjoying their dialogues, which are witty and intelligent. I’m glad he was part of the story again!
So far, the Mary Quinn books have great characters, convoluted plots, and quick dialogue. Each of the first two have ended in a way that’s left me satisfied but waiting for more. I’m definitely looking forward to the next Mary Quinn mystery from Y.S. Lee!