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The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower Hardcover – August 10, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up–Mary Quinn returns in another case for the Agency, a covert all-female detective agency in Victorian London. A man has recently fallen out of the soon-to-be-completed clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. Mary disguises herself as an errand boy and attempts to infiltrate the work site to discover potential suspects. After a rocky start, she finds herself learning much about the workers and the site engineer, Mr. Harkness, including that someone may be stealing building supplies. She also discovers that her old partner, James Easton, has returned from India after suffering from a bout with malaria. The two quickly join forces to try and solve the murder. This second book is much stronger than the first, both in terms of character development and the central mystery. Mary grows and struggles, first to come to terms with her past and secondly with her growing feelings for James. The two have a fiery relationship that threatens to boil over at any moment as they move from sparring to kissing, sometimes in the span of a page. Through Mary, readers also get an up-close glimpse into the darker side of Victorian London, particularly through her relationship with fellow errand boy Jenkins, who is the sole breadwinner for his family. Mary proves that she is definitely a detective to keep an eye on.Necia Blundy, Marlborough Public Library, MA
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The second book in the Agency series finds Mary Quinn still undercover at the all-female detective agency that’s run out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Her new assignment is dangerous both because she is tracking a murderer and she must work as an apprentice on the building site of the Houses of Parliament. Disguising herself as a boy brings back memories of Mary’s deprived childhood, where assuming a male identity was the only way to keep herself safe. Smart and suspenseful, this offers a solid heroine and a strong sense of life in Victorian England. Grades 8-12. --Ilene Cooper
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Mary is an immensely interesting character and it's because of this book that I want to go back to the first and get her full history. The snippets I got throughout THE BODY AT THE TOWER were little teasers, reminders of what those coming from the first missed and just enough for the rest of us to get by. She's a character torn by her race and her station in life but still bucking the trend of society. Love it. To have the balls to gender cross nowadays is awesome but back then? During a time when women had a certain place, usually nestled into a tightly knotted corset, Mary threw the convention away and did her thing regardless of how it made her feel.
This particular case was difficult for her because it forced her to relive a part of her life that she was more than willing to forget. Her reaction to the slums, at times rather violent and physical, was telling of just how horrible she had it. But she survived. She escaped thanks to The Agency and it's a puzzle piece I'd like to fit into it's slot. I know they saved her; I just don't know the particulars and I'd like to.
The Agency's mission is bucking the trend, employing women to solve these kinds of cases and again, love it. And it's written in such a way that I could actually believe that something like this was going on during that time. That there was this whole underground society of feminist movement that was really working in conjunction with the authorities and had far more reach than anyone could dream. It's such a wonderful thought.
The plot itself was interesting. I'm not a big fan of mysteries to begin with. Not that I don't like them; they just generally don't interest me a lot of the time. But I liked THE BODY AT THE TOWER, probably moreso for its historical setting than anything else. I love London and Lee has written an historical scene for the city beautifully. The slums especially were vibrant in their dirt and mire and poverty. At times I could actually taste it. Equal parts amazing and horrifying.
I wasn't blown away by the book but it was good. I had a 'huh' moment at the end with the reveal and it was neat. Again mysteries aren't my normal forte but I was entertained by THE BODY AT THE TOWER. Lee set the story up well and sowed the seeds of intrigued from the beginning. Of course I was trying to figure it out as soon as it appeared on the page but I'm never any good as those things. I guess I wasn't surprised by the ending but there were other elements thrown in that kept it from being completely predictable.
So you historical fiction lovers, this one's definitely for you. I wouldn't count on the romance because I think Mary's love interest is a jerk but that's a part of the story I'm missing from the first book. So there could rightly be information there I just don't know that would offer some kind of explanation. Still, from what I see on the page, jerk. The mystery's well-laid and it'll have you trying to connect the dots just like I tried to. Hopefully you'll be better at it!
1) Characters: The series' heroine Mary Quinn is back and feistier than ever, but perhaps that's partly because she has to disguise herself as a young boy (Mark Quinn). She's still eager to prove her worth to the agency and she's still impatient. But the reader sees a more vulnerable side of her since she has to relive her former experiences of being poor and on her own. And to make matters worse (or better), the arrogant but gallant James pops back into her life again. The tension between them thickens as their friendship/budding romance causes problems and differing views about the murder case. The book also takes a deeper look at Mary's teachers/employers, Anne Treleaven and Felicity Frame. While their parts of the story were fairly brief, it's clear each woman has their own opinions and there's more tension between them than Mary realizes.
2) Plot: This book is a mystery (the characters are out to solve the murder of a bricklayer and other strange happenings at the St. Stephen's construction site), but while investigating the main characters learn more about each other and themselves making it more personal than a simple assignment. Mary has to live in fear of being uncovered as she works to solve the murder, but she's risking more than just her discovered identity as she deals with old fears, progressive opinions, and her heart. And with each clue and step closer to the solution, more complications seem to arise (especially with James' connection to the case).
3) Setting: While the first book mostly dealt with the upper class of the Victorian London society, book two deals with the lower working and poor classes. Mary (disguised as Mark) goes to work for the construction crew at St. Stephen's Tower, the clock tower of the House of Parliament. Many of the story's chapters take place either on the work site, on the city streets, or in the slums of London. The descriptions of the common house where Mary stays (along with the homes of her fellow workers) are gritty though accurate. It's a revealing look at the seedier/shadier parts of mid-19th century England.
4) Prologue: Something I found interesting about this book was the author's use of the prologue. In the previous book, the prologue explained Mary's past life as a street-urchin thief. But in this book, the author gives the reader a glance at the events immediately after the murder takes place. It gives the reader the exact location and time of death, even telling things from the murderer's point of view. However, the murderer's identity isn't revealed nor is it easy to assume from the brief scene. Just like the main characters, I was constantly guessing and changing my thoughts on the murderer's identity. But once the murderer is revealed, I suggest the reader go back and reread the prologue to pick out the subtle clues.
Definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting a good mystery with a complex female lead or any fan of historical fiction who like seeing the daily lives of people along with the more well-known historical facts.