Series: The Agency #2
Published by Candlewick Press on August 10th 2010
This is another colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel about the exploits of agent Mary Quinn. 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.
Mary has a new assignment for the Agency – one which involves her dressing like a boy to investigate a mysterious death on a work site. This disguise may be a reminder of the past for her – a problem which she pushes aside to perform the job necessary to find the truth behind the accident/murder on the site. Although, when James Easton makes an appearance, she must yet again cover up the real reason why she is where she is and dressed as a boy no less. But will James distract her from her investigation?
I have to admire Mary's character – one who knows so much about the levels of society around her and tries her darndest to think the best of those she meets. She is definitely a young woman of many resources and I love her slightly feminist attitude.
James Easton is as stubborn and handsome as ever. I really enjoyed watching the two characters interact throughout the novel.
Final Verdict: Anyone who loves mysteries, rags to riches stories, and Victorian London will enjoy this novel.
Interview with Y.S. Lee
What's the best thing about being an author?
Everything! It’s a dream job: creative, self-directed, and limited only by your courage and talent.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing fiction with the goal of publication after finishing my PhD in Victorian literature and culture. (Before that I wrote a lot of academic research papers, including a book.) I started because I was at a crossroads: I didn’t want to become a university professor and thought it was a good time to try something I’d never before had the guts to do.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Body at the Tower?
I found it very difficult to imagine a Victorian building site – the scale, the density, what people did before big machines. This meant that I did a lot of research (a good thing – I adore research) to put things in perspective. For example, Big Ben (the largest bell in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament) weighs over 13 tons. The workers had to lift it 200 feet into the air to install it. Can you imagine? It took a major pulley system and a team of dozens of men working for almost 24 hours to get it into position. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
What are some of your favorite books?
Pardon me – I’ll have to break things down into subcategories, here. 😉
Madeleine L’Engle – anything featuring the Murry/O’Keefe families
L.M. Montgomery – the Emily Starr trilogy
Beryl Bainbridge, According to Queeney
Jane Gardam, Old Filth
Douglas Coupland, Hey Nostradamus!
Claire Tomalin, The Invisible Woman
Judith Flanders, The Victorian House (fantastic for Victorian daily-life research)
Do you have a favorite theme or genre that you like to write about? Is there a genre that you'll probably stay away from and why?
I think it’s too early in my career for a major theme to emerge, but I love the Victorian period and will almost certainly set novels in it again. Actually, I love history in general, so would never rule out any particular period.
I don’t see myself writing horror (too wussy) or sci-fi (I lack an advanced science background). But apart from that, I remain open-minded.
What's next for you?
There’s a possibility of a fourth Mary Quinn novel, and that’s what I’m working on now. I’m also thinking about an unrelated historical novel that’s set in southeast Asia, but I’m feeling cagey about the details. 😉
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