The Agency series takes us through Mary(sometimes Mark) Quinn’s adventures as a member of an all-female detective agency.
Our adventure begins with A Spy in the House. Set in 19th century London, Mary Quinn, a convicted housebreaker is sentenced to hang for her crimes, but finds herself in The Academy. This school educates underprivileged girls who would otherwise not have access to such an opportunity. The goal of The Academy is to provide the girls with a future besides a marriage to an abusive husband or a life as a housemaid. They strive to instill a sense of independence in their students, showing them there is more to themselves than just becoming someone’s one and mother. What young woman couldn’t benefit from that kind of teaching?
After five years in The Academy, Mary is introduced to The Agency, and sent on her first case, which takes us into the Thorold household where Mary’s to investigate the possibility of goods being smuggled in from abroad. Here she meets the dashing James Easton. James is determined to do some digging of his own when his brother George becomes romantically entangled with the Thorold daughter. As half of Easton Engineering, James has the company’s future in mind. Together they work to uncover this scandal. Despite their bickering, we see the beginnings of romantic interest develop between our heroine and her gentleman companion. Mary, however, has bigger issues to deal with when a piece of her family past comes rushing into her present.
In the second installment, Mary goes undercover as Mark Quinn on a building site. A mysterious death occurred after hours on the building site of the clock tower at the House of Parliament. In order to investigate, she disguises herself as a 12 year old boy, which forces her to relive her time as a child thief. As she becomes familiar with the construction site and workers, she finds herself – once again – face to face with James Easton. Easton has been hired to complete a safety inspection of the premises and determine if the site manager was negligent. James and Mary work together to uncover the truth about the crime, while also uncovering some truths about themselves.
The Body at the Tower gives us some insight into the lower economic sector of Victorian London by placing Mary in a blue collar position. Because Mary is in a masculine role, the feminist undertones are nearly nonexistent, but Mary’s independence and strength continue to shine through in her daily actions.
The final (for now, there are rumors of a 4th book) book in the series, The Traitor in the Tunnel takes place inside the walls of Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria has noticed items missing from the palace and hires the Agency to get to find the perpetrator. Mary works as a domestic servant and finds herself the recipient of affection from the Prince of Wales himself. The book has a drastic turn when the Prince witnesses the death of a friend and the suspect is a man Mary believed herself to never see again. While Mary struggles to cope with the possible reappearance of the father she thought she’d lost, James Easton is hired to work on the sewers below the palace (we saw that coming, right?). Mary uncovers a secret tunnel beneath the palace and in doing so finds something that threatens the life of the queen. James and Mary are again thrown into danger while trying to save those around them. Following the suspenseful events, Mary and James come to a resolution that turns out to be a satisfying one.
As the series progresses, we slowly learn more and more about Mary. Her past unfolds before us and we experience the pain and struggle she had and how she copes with it. Her strengths and weaknesses are revealed and reflected in her relationship with James. Lee also does a fantastic job of thoroughly developing James through each of the books as he learns to accept, forgive and love Mary for the lies she told him and her tragic past.
Bottom line: I loved the developing romance between Mary and James, although at times it seemed a little progressive for the time period. The first and third books were my favorite because the second moved a bit slower and got a little too technical into bricklaying (not really something that interests me all that much). I loved the series as a whole and it was definitely a quick read, which is always a plus.