________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 17. . . .January 7, 2011


The Body at the Tower. (The Agency, Book 2).

Y.S. Lee.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2010.
337 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-4968-5.

Subject Headings:
Mystery and detective stories.
Sex role-Fiction.
London (England)-History-19th century-Fiction.
Great Britain-History-Victoria, 1837-1901-Fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Lindsay Schluter.

***1/2 /4



She drew one last deep breath, not caring if it was audible. This was her last chance. She sprinted with all her strength across the open stretch, her boots ringing clearly against the paving stones. As she dived for the fence, wriggling and kicking through the narrow gap, the boards snagged against her clothes and scraped her hips and shins. She tumbled out into the street, laughing silently now as she heard her pursuer struggling and swearing. The wooden plank slapped down into place, possibly clipping him on its way. An adult would never fit through the gap. Not an adult male, at any rate.

Twelve-year-old Mary Quinn, a thief and a pickpocket, has been sentenced to death by hanging when she is unexpectedly rescued and given the opportunity to improve her life by attending Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Five years later, Mary is offered a role with the Agency, the secret female spy corps hidden within the school. Excited by the opportunity to make her own way in the world, she immediately accepts the offer.

     At age 17, Mary takes on her first case (A Spy in the House). In The Body at the Tower, 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 "Big Ben," the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a bustling part of town, and, despite the presence of night watchmen, no one saw what happened..

     Disguised as a boy named "Mark," Mary becomes a builder's assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower. With enthusiasm and excitement, Mary takes on the challenge, even though she knows this assignment will most likely stir up memories from her life before The Academy.

     With just as much intrigue and suspense as the first title in the series, The Body at the Tower is sure to delight those who read and enjoyed A Spy in the House. Mary is incredibly driven and distinctly determined, possessing a modern sensibility that makes it easy to slip into her Victorian world.

     Lee's depiction of the times is truly authentic, never losing its credibility everything from the scuzzy sights of dirty children clustered near the gutter to the putrid smell of "dirty hair, mold, sweat and decay, all compounded with the stink of rot and excrement." The gritty underbelly of Victorian London is masterfully crafted and it comes as no surprise, considering Lee's doctorate in Victorian Literature & Culture. As "Mark," Mary has access to a construction site, pubs, the streets at night, and plenty of places a woman of any respectability, no matter how small, would never deem to go. The result is a fascinating glimpse into history, and an authentic recreation of 19th Century London.

     The mystery, itself, is an intricate plot with several different suspects. People of bad character are easy to find, but it doesn't necessarily make them the true villain of the story. Lee keeps the reader guessing by strategically adding more and more layers, each more fascinating than the last.

     Readers will also be pleased with the reappearance of James Easton whose charm and wit are hard to ignore. The flirtatious banter between Mary and James is pure magic, and with equal amounts of stubbornness, their budding relationship is infused with juicy arguments and willful squabbles.

     Fans of historical mysteries should definitely pick up this series. It is a very quick and accessible read with enjoyable characters and a strong storyline. The third book in "The Agency" series, entitled The Traitor and the Tunnel, is to be released in 2011.

Highly Recommended.

Lindsay Schluter is the Youth Services Librarian for Programs and Services at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.