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Summary: A clandestine women's detective agency operates in Victorian London.
Mary Quinn is saved from the gallows at age twelve and is reared in a girls finishing school. When she grows bored with her safe life, she is invited by the headmistress there to train and becomes a spy for The Agency. Dun dun dun. What I hoped for would be details of the training, and quirky teachers, but instead her training was glossed over and we jump to Mary's first job.
She is expected to find details about English cargo ships that have been sunk, and whether or not the owner, Mr. Therold is committing fraud. There's also a main agent who's working on this case, but Mary serves in the Therold house as companion to Mr. Therold's spoiled heiress daughter Angelica. The case didn't seem that urgent or important and I also couldn't figure out what the urgency was, although Mary is under a two week time limit.
Despite a few plot holes and red herrings (I NEVER suspected the true villain), I enjoyed this story. It is chick lit? Hardly. Historical fiction? Yes, a bit. A romance? Barely. Although as a mystery, it felt very reminiscent of its time. Have you read any of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries? They are quite good and this book seemed to be similar in pacing and tone.
I am eager to discover who else works in The Agency. Having women who work in Victorian households in that sort of in-between status (governesses, companions, etc) and are also secret spies has been done before, multiple times in romance novels, but having an Agency place them? Well, that's a delightful twist. I wanted more of the Agency. Who founded it? Why? What's that story? How could other women in the agency identify each other? Is there anybody inside the royal household? I will be reading more of this series, but won't feel a need to rush through them.