Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Agency: The Body at the Tower Audio

The Agency: The Body at the Tower Audio

Y.S. Lee
For ages 12 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Justine Eyre
Brilliance Audio, 2010   ISBN: 978-1441890429

A little over a year ago Mary Quinn, a young lady who had a very rough start in life and who was then taken in by some kind women and educated, decided to join the Agency, a spy organization whose agents are all women. To be sure, Mary’s first case did not work out as planned and there were times when her life was at risk, but she is still glad that she chose to work for the Agency. She is glad to be doing something that has value.

      Just a few days ago a bricklayer working on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament construction site fell to his death, and Mary’s employers at the Agency want her to find out what happened. Something is going on at the site that feels off and Mary needs to find out what that is.

   For this new case Mary is not going uncover as a servant. Instead, she is going undercover as a twelve-year-old boy. She has cut her hair, bound her breasts so they don’t show, dressed in the clothes of a working class boy, and worked on her voice and mannerisms. When Mary was a child she had to struggle to survive, she had to be alert for danger all the time, and she had a “lonely, joyless existence.” Pretending to be a young boy who has a similar life should not be too hard.

   Posing as an apprentice, Mary serves as an errand boy, carries bricks, gets drinks for the workers, and does whatever else she is told to do. She watches and listens and realizes that there is tension between the men and their boss and between the foreman, Keenan, and Reid, one of the other bricklayers. She quickly figures out that both men are “on the take,” somehow making money on the side, and that the dead man, Wick, was also involved in their illegal activities. Was the dead man killed to shut him up, or was his death an accident? Perhaps Wick was killed by Reid who was in love with Wick’s wife.

   Mary’s job is made complicated when James Easton, whom she encountered during her first case, turns up. He is asked to do a review of the construction site to determine if safety standards are not as they should be. Easton quickly sees through Mary’s disguise and he sets about trying to find out what she is up to. Reluctantly Mary realizes that she needs Easton’s help, but at the same time she cannot tell him who she is really working for. Her case is turning out to be very problematic and dangerous.

  In this second Agency title, we not only see how Mary copes with a new case, but we also learn more about her past and get further insight into her personality. We see how Mary struggles to come to terms with her past, and how she decides that she has to keep her parentage a secret. If anyone finds out that her father was Chinese, she will have no place in Victorian London. She will be an outcast.

   The author of this story does not try to glamorize what it was like to live in Victorian England. Instead, she presents that world as it really was, and often the picture we are given is harsh and ugly. It is honest though, and knowing where Mary comes from makes her transformation even more interesting.

   Narrated with great spirit and pathos, this audiobook will both entertain and enlighten listeners.