Monday, March 26, 2012

The Body at the Tower by YS Lee

Published August 10, 2010.

At a young age, Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school turns out to be a front for a private detective agency. At age 17, Mary takes on her first case (A Spy in the House). In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen's Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder's assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower. (

I didn't realize THE BODY AT THE TOWER wasn't the first book in THE AGENCY series until well after I received the book for review. But I'd already said I'd review it and unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read the first so I could have a good segue into the second but really I don't feel I needed to. Sure, Mary's backstory from the first book would have been wonderful to have and would have fleshed out her character so much more but she was pretty stand out in THE BODY AT THE TOWER. I got the information I needed to accurately gain her perspective and the story immediately started. And then enough of her background was drizzled in throughout the book that I didn't feel I was missing anything at all. While there are little subplots that link the books, the greater story arc stands alone and make for a pretty easy read, even for the second book in the series.

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!

Ban Factor: Low - No swears, no sex, nothing supernatural, nothing paranormal, nothing more gratuitous than a slanted fart joke. Unless the banners have something against female empowerment . . . which they might . . .
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