Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Agency: A spy in the house Audio

The Agency: A spy in the house Audio

Y.S. Lee
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Performed/read by: Justine Eyre
Brilliance Audio, 2010 

When she was just twelve years old Mary was arrested for stealing. Being a pickpocket and thief was how orphaned had Mary survived, and one day she got careless and was caught. Mary was condemned to die, but instead of being hanged, she was secretly whisked away from the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey after her sentencing and taken to Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.

   The school was founded by a woman who wanted to give girls the opportunity to get a real education so that they would have more options in their lives. So many girls in England at this time either worked as servants or governesses. Others had to accept being married off or becoming a man’s mistress. Many unlucky ones became prostitutes because they had no other choice, just like Mary’s mother. Mary’s rescuer wants Mary to have the opportunity to do something more with her life, to do something that will provide her with a living. Hopefully she will find her chosen job at least somewhat satisfying.

   For five years Mary has been living at the school. She is no longer the dirty terrified little guttersnipe she once was. She has an education and knows how to conduct herself like a lady. The one thing she does not have are prospects. She has been teaching at the school, but feels that she really is not suited to being a teacher. Nor is she suited to being a secretary, a clerk, or a nurse. She decides to discuss the matter with the two women who run the school and they give her another option, a remarkable one that Mary finds interesting. Mary is offered the opportunity to become an agent for the Agency, an organization of women spies who find out information for clients. Since women are considered either decorative or not worthy of notice, they are not taken seriously. A young woman can work in a house as a governess or maid, and no one will pay her any mind, which makes it very easy for her to gather information secretly.

    After training hard for a month, Mary is given her first assignment. She is going to work in the house of a rich businessman, serving as a paid companion for his daughter. Her job is to try to find out as much as she can about the businessman, Mr. Thorold, who is suspected of being involved in smuggling valuable antiquities out of India and selling them to collectors.

   At first Mary does not find out anything, and then, when she is searching her employer’s office, she encounters a young man, James Easton, who is doing the same thing. He is convinced that Mr. Thorold is up to no good and he wants to make sure he finds out what is going on before his older brother proposes to Miss Thorold. James does not want his family business tied to Thorold’s name if the man is doing something illegal.

   Mary does not tell James that she is working for the Agency. Instead, she comes up with a good cover story for her activities, and the two begin to work together to try to find out what Mr. Thorold is doing. Neither one of them considers that they might be in serious danger, and that the scheme they are trying to uncover is bigger than they imagined. A lot bigger.

   In this first Agency title, the author introduces us to a fascinating time in England’s history, a time full of change and new ideas. There were huge differences between the lives of the haves and the have nots, and women had very few choices, freedoms, or rights. It is interesting to watch Mary deal with her first assignment, and to see how she makes all kinds of mistakes in her eagerness to get to the truth. She wants so much to do well, and yet she gets caught up in the lives of the people she encounters, which complicates her work a great deal.