Review: The Agency part two: The Body at the Tower by Y.S Lee.
Finally one of my book wishes came true – I am very pleased indeed! My review of the first part of the Agency trilogy, with the appropriate intro to the series, you can find here.
The second Mary Quinn mystery starts with a tragedy – a bricklayer by the name of John Wick is found dead on the building site of the London Houses of Parliaments. Apparently he has jumped (or has been pushed) from St Stephen’s Tower which is known from housing Big Ben. As the Scotland Yard can’t find out why, they employ the Agency – all-female, secret detective unit our heroine belongs to. It is a huge chance for all these women to show their mettle but also a very difficult case – their agent must dress up as a man and operate among low-class folk, builders and constructors, with the possibility of being harassed or even encountering a potential murderer. Mary is the best suited person for the task as she used to lead the life of a street urchin after the death of her mother. She dressed like a boy to avoid rape. Many years have passed, though, and now she is also a young woman of eighteen who has been brought up as a lady with all the comforts of the middle class life. Will she be able to impersonate a twelve-year-old boy again and infiltrate the close-knit and often ruthless community of labourers in order to discover the truth? Even her superior, Anne Treleaven, has her doubts but Mary decides to give herself a try and face the demons of her unhappy childhood. She hopes she can make them disappear for good.
Meanwhile James Easton and his brother, George, had returned from India. Their company is being at a low ebb as they lost the India project and no new orders are coming. What’s more, James had contracted malaria and, although recovering, is still very weak,. When an old friend of his father, Mr. Harkness, the manager of the Houses of Parliaments building site, asks him to conduct an independent supervision in order to prove that the death of the bricklayer was not connected with any negligence or breach of regulations he smells something fishy but he can hardly decline. Such a job might bring an additional benefit of getting to know important officials and secure new, lucrative projects. On the site James is surprised more than one time. The discipline among workers is lax, the whole construction is seriously delayed, the building materials are disappearing. What’s more, one of the new boys, employed by Harkness, is nobody else but his old collaborator, Mary Quinn. What is she doing there? Will they cooperate again? Will such a situation hinder or rather encourage their romance, previously broken by James’s departure?
The lead characters, James and Mary, are a treat, especially the latter. I enjoyed her struggle with the unpleasant experiences from the past and the fact that she didn’t find her new role as comfortable as she expected. I also loved that we got to see Mary thinking over her Chinese heritage once again. The romance thread added to the story as it evolved further but without overshadowing the main plotline. Generally the pace of narration of the second installment was as lively as that of the first one, making this book trully ‘unputdownable’.Let’s not forget about the Victorian life details, rendered by the author perfectly. This book can make you interested in the period!
I did hope to read a bit more about the Agency itself and the background of the two Agency managers – Anne Treleaven and Felicity Frame. Still I found zilch. Better luck next time? I cerainly hope so. I would also wish the book was longer.
I liked the book very much and I recommend the whole series. I can’t wait for the third part!