A Spy in the House – Y.S. Lee (The Agency No.1)
Walker Books, 2009
In the late 19th century, a lady is expected to live in blameless obedience, under the governance of men. Beneath a surface of docility, however, there are women who have very different ideas. When Mary Quinn joins the household of a wealthy merchant as the paid companion of his daughter, it is as a spy in the service of the shadowy Agency, to whom she owes everything. Her role is only to observe. But there are more secrets in this house than even Mary believed possible, and more than a few are her own…
A Spy in the House has a lot of potential but doesn’t quite live up to it. The beginning feels rushed and unconvincing, with too much implied and not enough happening. It improves when action shifts to the Thorold house – the interactions between the women there are particularly well done and Angelica is an excellent character – but this is also when Mary’s love interest is introduced and honestly, I could have done without him. During most of his scenes Mary goes from a competent, intelligent young woman to a flustered, amateurish mess; as for him, he’s abrasive and arrogant, which makes the apparently mutual attraction all the more mystifying. The parts of the book where she is investigating on her own are much more enjoyable. This is Lee’s first novel and the first in the Agency series. It continues with The Body at the Tower.