A Spy in the House
by Y.S. Lee
Trade Paperback: 335 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Released: February 8, 2011
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Book Description from Goodreads:
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?
A Spy in the House is a young adult historical mystery novel. It's set in 1858 in London. The historical details about the manners and activities of the time were woven into the story and didn't slow the pacing down. The mystery was about illegal business activities rather than a murder whodunit, which was a nice change. It seemed like everyone had something secret going on. I was kept guessing about who was involved in exactly what until about the same time as the heroine put the facts together.
The characters had depth to them and were interesting, and yet I didn't really sympathize or deeply care about any of them. So it was an interesting story but lacked an emotional connection for me. There were plenty of places were there should have been suspense from danger of the heroine being discovered or even harmed, but the heroine was not particularly scared about getting caught or hurt. That made the story lack suspense for me. The heroine also didn't really seem to be a product of her time, and at times the story seemed more of a romance than a mystery.
There was some explicit bad language. There was no sex though affairs were mentioned. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable and interesting novel.
Update: I started reading the sequel last night. The premise of the series was what interested me. The idea was that women would never be suspected of being spies and undercover detectives, so Agency women took assignments to discover things "from the inside" that men wouldn't be able to. Part of my disappointment with "A Spy in the House" was that her assignment was to listen to and watch the family from inside, but she hardly spent any time with the family and kept putting on breeches and breaking into warehouses and such (and learning no information while doing so) which men could do just fine.
I liked the idea of women using the culture of the time to their advantage. And most of the important things the heroine learned were, indeed, as a lady's companion. So I'd hoped that the second book would more closely stick to the premise as the heroine had now learned her lesson. Sadly, no: an 18 or 19 year old girl is going to spend the whole book trying to pass herself off as a 12-year-old boy. Not interested, thanks.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.