Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Title: A Spy in the House (The Agency Bk. 1)
Author: Y.S. Lee
Publisher: Candlewick
Pub. Date: March 2010
Genre: YA Mystery
Keywords: Spies, Victorian London, Orphans, Secrets, Romance, Mystery
Pages: 335
Description (from GoodReads): 
Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary earns a singular education, fine manners, and a surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of a lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary.

Packed with action and suspense, and evoking the gritty world of Victorian London, Book One of the Agency series debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits.


I sometimes find that novels with historical settings can be a bit dry, but Y.S. Lee has rekindled my love affair with Victorian England. A SPY IN THE HOUSE is a fast paced read, narrated by a feisty heroine, bursting with mystery, lies, greed, secret alliances, and, of course, romance.


With her quick wit and adventuresome spirit, Mary Quinn has quickly become one of my favorite main characters! A SPY IN THE HOUSE is set in Victorian London, where Mary’s secret life as a spy is one of the many traits that sets her apart from her peers. Even with her schooling and fine manners, she doesn’t fit the mold of a typical Victorian woman. Her history is a bit blurry, her origins are unknown, and she’s bursting with opinions. Mary definitely stands out in Victorian London, but her character is so vibrant that I believe she’d have a difficult time blending into any setting.


I admire Lee’s ability to use just the right amount of foreshadowing: too much and a novel will lose much of its mysteriousness, too little and the reader will become frustrated and completely confused. There were enough clues present that I could determine some of the lies and secrets, but the biggest aspect of the mystery remained a riddle for most of the novel. I was also impressed with Lee’s ability to weave seemingly independent plot lines into a complex and compelling mystery, while still keeping the mystery intact.


I was thrilled to discover that there was a romantic plot line in A SPY IN THE HOUSE. Mary is forced to hide in a wardrobe when she is nearly discovered poking through an off-limits office, only to find the wardrobe is already occupied. One can assume that if you meet a man in a wardrobe, he probably isn’t the boring sort. Mary has met her match in James Easton, who, against his better judgment, is intrigued by “Miss Closet.” The conversations between James and Mary were humorous and tension-filled; the chemistry between the two is evident from the moment they tumble out of the wardrobe.

James is one of my favorite male characters/romantic leads. Not only is he funny, smart, and mysterious, I always end up picturing him as James McAvoy. This definitely enhances my reading experience.

I like mystery and historical novels, but I don’t usually love them. Somehow, I have come to love the Mary Quinn mysteries. I’ve read the next novel, A BODY AT THE TOWER, which will be released in August, and it is just as good, if not better, than the first installment. If you have any interest in mysteries, kickass girl spies, or good-looking boys in wardrobes, you need to read this book!

Grade: A+

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8 thoughts on “Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

  1. +JMJ+I confess I'm not crazy about Historical novels with "non-typical" characters. I always wonder whether they are just modern people in period costume, doing what we would do if we had been in the past and not what their actual historical equivalents would have done. On the other hand, it's easy to make allowances for Romance novels because one doesn't read them for historical accuracy but for the puzzle that is getting the hero and heroine together. And I think it would be very easy to make an allowance for a book with such a wardrobe scene! It's the best use of a wardrobe I've heard of, next to C.S. Lewis' famous inspiration. =)

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