A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{March 4, 2012}   The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

Plot: Mary Quinn takes on her second big job for the Agency, London’s all-female spy agency running out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Disguised as a poor young boy, she infiltrates a building site to uncover a murderer. But just as she starts to gain the confidence of the work crew, she is surprised the appearance of an old acquaintance.

I love a good Victorian mystery, especially with a female main character. Mary is a pleasure: she is stubborn and brave and not afraid to get her hands dirty. Her defiance of gender conventions and the struggles caused by her mixed race (she is half-Chinese though she passes) only make her more interesting.

But while I love the concept for this series, I had some problems with the execution. Once again, Mary solves the case less through skill than through coincidence. The evidence she finds through her investigation is merely circumstantial, the truth is revealed by a melodramatic admission by the criminal. But then, I don’t think she could have resolved the case otherwise, she made far too many mistakes right from the start.

I also had some problems with her persona as Mark Quinn. Mary grew up on the streets so she was familiar with Mark’s life but Lee also tries to use her as an outside observer on lower class London life, a way to teach us 21st century readers about the era. This irked me, either Mary knows the life or she is shocked by it, you can’t have it both ways.

I was rather pleased with one addition to the series: Octavius Jones, a journalist for the London eye. He isn’t exactly endearing but his banter with Mary was a pleasure to read, indeed I thought it some of the best dialogue in the book.

Read my review of the first Mary Quinn novel, A Spy in the House, which I also enjoyed with reservations. You can also look forward to the third book in the series: The Traitor and the Tunnel.

2012 (#25)


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