The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2)

The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2)

by Y. S. Lee


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Mary’s second adventure as an undercover agent forces her to relive some harrowing childhood experiences as she seeks the identity of a murderer.

Mary Quinn’s new assignment sends her into the building site of the clock tower for the Houses of Parliament dressed as an impoverished young boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing — or losing — her identity. Mary’s second adventure offers a fictional window into the fascinating, if grimy, underbelly of Victorian London.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780763687502
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 04/26/2016
Series: The Agency Series , #2
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 311,602
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 12 - 15 Years

About the Author

Y. S. Lee was born in Singapore but brought up in Canada. She also lived briefly in the UK. An academic with a Ph.D. in Victorian literature and culture, she wrote Masculinity and the English Working Class in Victorian Autobiography and Fiction. She lives in Ontario, Canada.

Read an Excerpt


Midnight, 30 June 1859
St. Stephen's Tower, Palace of Westminster

A sobbing man huddles on a narrow ledge, clawing at his eyes to shield them from the horror far below. It is dark, thus his terror is irrational; even if he wanted to, he could not make out what he's done, let alone note the gruesome details. Still, his mind's eye insists on the scene: gory, explicit, final. Imagination, not remorse, is at the core of his violent hysteria.

Within the hour he will exhaust himself and even fall asleep for a few minutes. When he wakes - with a start - reason will return and bring with it a degree of fatalism. Two paths now lie before him, and the choice is no longer his. He will pick himself up, carefully not look- ing over the edge. He will right his clothing, inspect his hands with care, and return home. And then he will wait to see what the future holds.
And he will vow to reveal the truth - but only at the time of his death.


Saturday, 2 July
St. John's Wood, London

The freedoms of being a boy, reflected Mary, were many. She could swing her arms as she walked. She could run if she wished. She looked tidy enough to avoid police suspi- cion but shabby enough to be invisible to all others. Then there was the odd sensation of lightness that came of having cropped hair; she hadn't realized how heavy her own hair was until it was gone. Her breasts were tightly bound, and even if they did ache a little at such treatment, she could at least scratch herself with impunity, scratch- ing in public being one of those Boy Things she ought to enjoy while she could. It was therefore a shame that she wasn't enjoying the situation. Wearing boy's clothing was comfortable and amusing, and she'd enjoyed her esca- pades in breeches during her first-ever assignment. But this - today - was entirely different. It was serious, and she still had no idea why.

Her instructions were simple enough: to costume her self as a twelve-year-old boy and attend a meeting of the Agency at three o'clock this afternoon. No further expla- nation had been offered, and by now, Mary knew better than to ask for more details. Anne and Felicity always gave precisely as much information as they deemed appropri- ate. Of course, such knowledge hadn't stopped her from fretting about the possibilities yesterday, overnight, and all this morning. Over the past year, she'd delighted in her training: tests, lessons, and brief assignments that offered a taste of the life to come. But there was little pleasure in her this morning. What did Anne and Felicity want? And what sort of assignment could be connected with her present guise?

The Agency had been created and was staffed entirely by women, and its genius lay in the exploitation of female stereotypes. Its secret agents disguised themselves as maids, governesses, clerks, lady companions, and other humble, powerless characters. In most situations, no mat- ter how dangerous, few people would suspect a subservi- ent woman of being intelligent and observant, let alone a professional spy. With this as the Agency's guiding philosophy, it made no sense whatsoever for Mary to be dressed as a boy.

She raked her fingers through her hair, then stopped abruptly midstroke: that was a girl's gesture. And the only thing worse than not understanding what she was doing was compounding it by doing a poor job, too. As she neared the top of Acacia Road, where the Agency was headquartered, Mary pressed her lips together and took several deep breaths. Her cowardly impulse was to turn and make one last circuit of Regent's Park, to spend just a little more time thinking matters through. As though she hadn't already been marching about St. John's Wood for the past two hours. As though physical movement might still her mind and soothe her nerves. As though she was calm enough to sort through the swirl of emotions cloud- ing her brain.

It was time to act, not to think. A few brisk steps took her to the house with its wrought-iron gates and polished brass nameplate: MI S S SCR I M SH AW'S ACADEM Y FOR GI RLS. The Academy had been her home for years now. But today, looking at the nameplate, she willed herself to look at it as a stranger might - specifically, as a twelve-year-old boy might. The house was large and well kept, with a tidy garden and flagged path. But in contrast with those of the neighboring houses, the front steps were swept but not whitened - an essential task that proclaimed to the world that one kept servants and kept them busy rewhitening the steps each time a caller marred them with footprints. The Academy's irregularity here was the only sign of the most unusual institution that lay within.

Suddenly, the front door swung open and disgorged a pair of girls - or, rather, young ladies. They were neatly dressed, neither at the height of fashion nor in the depths of dowdiness. They were having an animated conversa- tion. And they looked curiously at Mary, whose nose was still inches from the closed gate.

"Are you lost?" asked the taller of the two as they approached the gate.
Mary shook her head. "No, miss." Her voice came out higher than she wanted, and she cleared her throat hast- ily. "I was bid come here."
A fine wrinkle appeared on the girl's forehead. "By whom?"
"I mean, I've a letter to deliver."

The girl held out her hand. "Then you may give it to me."
Mary shook her head again. "Can't, miss. I'm charged to give it to Mrs. Frame and no one else. Is this her house?" She'd spent all morning working on her inflection, trying to get the accent right while keeping her voice gruff.

The girl looked imperious. "You may trust me; I'm the head girl at this Academy."

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The Body at the Tower (The Agency Series #2) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
I look forward to reading the first book in this series, although not having read it did not detract from reading book 2. This is a clever twist on private investigation agencies, both because it is all women and because of the restraints of the time period. The puzzle is interesting, the plot sufficiently complex, the characters well developed, and the bit of romance just the right amount to not get in the story's way. All in all, a good read. Now I'm off to A Spy in the House book 1
Cassandra_Serenity More than 1 year ago
I read this book quickly, because I couldn't put it down, and enjoyed every moment of it. The setting is brilliant, the character complex, and even when I knew who the killer was I still had to see how they figured it out. The romantic connection between James and Quinn is filled with 1900's charm, heartache, frustration, and absolute love. I can't wait to read the next one.
BooksAreMyLifeSS More than 1 year ago
This is a fun, smart, well-written mystery series. I love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really good! It was written really well! The only part i didnt like was the ending. It ended in what seemed to me to be the middle of the book. I didnt like the way it ended either! I dont want to give anything away so i wont say why. Overall, i really enjoyed this book and completely reccomend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the book verymuch and I really really don't want to wait almost three months to see how the story ends. Hopfully James gets better as his aggogance and enderment for Mary adds life to the story.
readinggeek451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the unfinished new Parliament building, a man falls to his death from the clock tower. Mary Quinn goes undercover as a builders' apprentice to investigate. But this unusual role stirs up old, unpleasant memories, as well as the danger of the work.A worthy follow up.
cyderry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the second installment of the Agency Mary Quinn is disguised as a young boy and working at the construction site of Big Ben. Bricklayer Wick has been found at the base of the clock tower and investigation by the police has not turned up any indication of what happened, so the Agency has been hired to find out.A special safety inspector has been hired to determine what needs to be done to get the site back on track, and Mary may be compromised because the inspector is none other than an old acquaintance James Easton. Will he see through her disguise? If so, will he give her away?The action in the book is pleasantly spread along with the personal dilemma for Mary. This series seems to be perfectly designed for young adults with hidden agendas of moral quandaries.
wiremonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mary Lang is a twelve-year old, half-chinese, half-irish London ragamuffin about to be hanged for thieving when she is offered the chance of a new life at Miss Scrimshaw¿s Academy for Girls. The Academy is an unusual institution run by two very different young ladies, Ann Treleaven, a prim, thirty-ish spinster and Felicity Frame. The students at the academy are trained in useful occupations and learn to be independent. However, if the life of a governess or nurse does not suit them, and if they have the aptitude for such work, the students have another option ¿ to become a member for the Agency, an all-women spy, well, Agency.With their aid, Mary transforms herself into Mary Quinn, choosing to hide her Chinese ancestry and pass as only half-irish to explain her dark, exotic looks. When the time comes for her to seek employment outside the school, uninspired with the dull like of a governess, she chooses to join the Agency.And thus begins a series of mysterious adventures. Along the way, she meets her romantic foil, James Easton, a young engineer.Although the mysteries are a little too predictable, the relationship between Mary and James is pitch perfect, reminiscent of the best Victorian-era romantic mysteries for adults: The Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Amelia Peabody and of course, who can forget Ms. Alexia Tarabotti in the Parasol Protectorate.These were great fun, with a clear and intriguing view of London, from the everday workings of a middle class family, to the re-building of parliament to Queen Victoria herself. In fact, I especially enjoyed Lee¿s portrayal of the latter, as a fierce leader and loving mother.Pair this up with Pullman¿s Sally Lockhart mysteries, Shane Peacock¿s Young Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Springer¿s Enola Holmes series.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: Next in the series.I want to say The Body at the Tower is even better than book 1 but I think that's because I've just finished reading it. The follow up to A Spy in the House is just as amazingly brilliant as its predecessor. A fast-paced, read-into-the-night Victorian mystery.Mary Quinn has been sent on assignment this time to go undercover as a young boy. Chopping her hair off and binding her chest tightly her petite half Chinese frame allows her to pull this off without a hitch. She is sent to the construction site of St. Stephen's Clock Tower which holds the bell, Big Ben. A construction worker has just been found dead at the bottom of the tower, having supposedly either fallen or jumped. Mary's assignment is to infiltrate the construction crew and pick up any insider information on the man's death and also to look into the state of affairs concerning the construction management itself.Lee's depiction of Victorian times is authentic and never loses its credibility. As I've said previously, Ms. Lee has managed to pick the perfect profession for her heroine to move about within the confines of this rigid society. As a spy, her disguises allow her to cross class lines and present as a bold, outspoken woman in private. This time around disguised as a boy, there are no boundaries to "Mark's" world. As Mark, Mary has access to a construction site, pubs, the streets at night, and plenty of places a woman of any respectability, no matter how small, would never deem to go.The mystery is an intricate plot with several different tracks being followed. People of bad character are easy to find but it doesn't necessarily make them the villains in these particular circumstances. Lee keeps the reader guessing by adding more to the plot with each reveal. Mary also has the added burden of running into James again and their relationship takes many turns.The recommended age of these books are 12+ but I would suggest a little older as even though they are perfectly clean they speak of adult topics. This one mentions rape, prostitution, men who like little boys and other unsavory topics. Also since the protagonist is 18 years old I find no reason that this would not be enjoyed by adult readers of cozy historical mysteries. The publishers may even want to consider marketing "adult version" covers of the series. I'm anxiously awaiting book 3 but I am a tad worried that this is supposed to be a trilogy. I really hope Ms. Lee reconsiders and continues on with the adventures of Mary Quinn.
molliekay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a bit to get into this one, but when I did, I couldn't wait to get to the end! Another fascinating mystery that brings the London of the 1860s to life (I felt like I could actually smell it the way Lee describes). I can't wait to read the next installment.
theepicrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After a great running start from its predecessor, The Body At The Tower definitely keeps the momentum and practically leaps into the realm of a most fascinating Victorian mystery. Y.S. Lee layers the suspense thick as London fog as we follow Mary into the grittier side of life. The story took me to places that I never thought about such as Mary's deplorable lodging arrangements that lacked for privacy, the sad state of affairs for orphaned families, etc. I appreciated the depth of details that Y.S. Lee provided the reader - so different from the 1st book where we still swirl around in skirts and with teacups - The Body At The Tower truly sinks its teeth into the working class life and chews it thoughtfully before spitting out a well-done mystery.
ShellyPYA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mary Quinn disguises herself as a boy to help uncover the circumstances behind the death of a laborer who was working on building the Houses of Parliament.
C.Ibarra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In The Body at the Tower, we meet up with the lovely Mary Quinn again. About a year has passed since we last saw her in A Spy in the House. She is offered an assignment at a local building site where a suspicious death has occurred. Mary will have to play the part of a young boy. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Mary accepts even though she knows this assignment will most likely stir up memories from her life before Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls saved her from execution. While working incognito, James Easton comes back into her life. Worried about blowing her cover, Mary continues to behave as a young boy named Mark Quinn, while wondering if James suspects who she might really be.I was so excited to spend time with Mary again. She continues to struggle with the mixed heritage she is afraid to claim, but also ashamed to deny. We catch a glimpse of a more emotional side of Mary in this novel, as she reflects on the course her life has taken. I love the growth her character experiences during this installment. I was ecstatic to see James return. I think a fist pump might have occurred along with a "Yippee it¿s James!¿. I was convinced his leaving for India was the end for him and Mary. Things continue to be on the complicated side for these two, but I absolutely love the chemistry they create. The ending was a little disheartening, and is bound to make the wait for the next book feel like forever. I don¿t hide my love for The Agency novels, and recommend them to others every chance I get. I gave The Spy in the House 5 Stars. I loved the newest addition even more, and felt it deserved my first 5+ rating. I can¿t say enough about these books. Intriguing mysteries, fascinating characters, an interesting setting, and enough romance to satisfy without overshadowing the plot. Even those who aren¿t fans of historical books should check these out. Mary Quinn might just change your mind. I¿m so sad this is just a trilogy, and not a series I can enjoy for years to come.
MagicalSibylle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really looking forward to reading the second installment in The Agency trilogy. In this book, Mary has to investigate the death of a worker on a construction site & she goes undercover, disguised as Mark. While it was a really enjoyable read, I wasn't as pleased with it as I'd been with A Spy in the House (reviewed here). First of all, I didn't find the plot as engaging as for the first book. In the first book, I'd grown quite fond of reading about the secondary characters and their development (in particular, if you remember, that of Angelica - but I fear I'm spoiling a bit here). With The Body at the Tower, I really struggled to keep up with what was going on and the detective story part of the novel failed to keep me interested. That being said, I didn't give this book 4 stars for nothing - Mary is as lovely a heroine as ever and the social commentary is as sharp as in The Spy in the House - I noticed the author focused more on issues of paternalism this time. For example, at some point, Mary remarks that offering baskets of food to poverty-stricken families gives well-off people a sense of accomplishment but once it's not a sustainable source at all, what they need is lasting change. Also, can I say yay for an awesome reference to Mary Wollstonecraft? :)Surprisingly enough, I thought the best parts of the books were the ones related to Mary and James, not so much their romance (though the banter's always a welcome addition) but how much the author developed them this time. I felt they were more real than ever, especially James who - even though I can't forget his essentialist comments in Spy - is turning into quite the catch. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Mary and James comment on homosexual relationships in a very casual and matter-of-fact way, which made them very endearing.Overall, I'm constantly impressed at the range this series of books offers. Y.S. Lee does something not many have done before, which is giving a pretty good picture of Victorian London seen through the eyes of not only the happy few and how the happy few sees the rest but also how the rest lives - Mary herself has to deal with this constantly. On top of it all, it's generally a series of really good adventure novels. I'll be very sorry to see the third (and last) book come out next year for I really wish this fantastic series would last but a little longer!
ylin.0621 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mary has a new mission: she must solve the mystery behind the suspicious death at St. Stephen's Tower. Her disguise: a young boy of age 13 working at the construction site. But this character that Mary will play will hit home hard for before Mary joined Academy for Girls¿a school to train private eyes¿she was forced to live on the streets and pretending to be a young boy than a girl just betters her chances of not getting rape. There is no time to relax for Mary must keep her guard up amongst all these men as well as rooming with one. But James is back from India and there to push her buttons.If you really liked the first installment to this series you will love this sequel. The Body at the Tower is well paced with enough scheming characters that it¿s hard to pin-point the exact culprit. There is also more Mary and James love! (Fun, fun read.) Y.S. Lee writes like a true mystery writer with details that cover all 5 senses and descriptive words that the reader is right there where the action is.The Body at the Tower delivered as an emotional read as well as we learn more about Mary. From childhood struggles to an ethnicity that she is forced to hide, Lee writes a stunning novel. Yet I will say this again and again, my reading taste differs from others so while I thought The Body at the Tower was good, it was not superb. I lack that connection that other readers managed to find and frankly I think it¿s all me and not the novel¿s fault.
stephxsu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orphan Mary Quinn works for the Agency, a secret spy organization run by and employing entirely woman. Her latest assignment has her disguised as a 12-year-old boy at the construction site of a clock tower near Parliament, investigating a mysterious death and the site¿s overall generally bad reputation. Mary is skilled at her ¿trade,¿ but she finds being a boy harder than she expects when it brings back long-suppressed memories of her rough childhood.To make matters worse¿or better, in some instances¿James, her old flame, has returned from India, changed in some ways, yet exactly the same in others. Will Mary be able to balance all the different parts of her life while she does her job, or will something have to fall¿literally?The first book in this series, A Spy in the House, was a solidly entertaining and well-researched historical mystery, but this second installment, THE BODY AT THE TOWER, throws me into fangirl zone. THE BODY AT THE TOWER, is off-the-charts incredible for its genre, a Victorian London mystery that is sure to please old and new fans.All of Y. S. Lee¿s writing strengths return in full force in this worthy sequel: from character development, to exquisitely immersing historical details, to a sizzling romance. All of the details about the Victorian era never feel forced or extravagant: readers will find it easy to fall into the gritty London that Mary inhabits, while learning incredible things about the Victorian era along the way.The richness of the setting is matched well by the playful banter between Mary and James, banter that I described as Austen-worthy in my review of the first book, a sentiment that I heartily return to now. Sure, maybe it¿s wish fulfillment in a number of ways¿James is a self-described arrogant and persistent man¿but damn if the pages didn¿t nearly catch on fire while I was reading their banter. This is a strong-minded couple that doesn¿t have it easy, but they certainly have chemistry.Lee introduces new characters almost effortlessly, while simultaneously further exploring Mary¿s conflicts with her heritage and childhood. Sure, minor characters help move the plot forward or give the MCs necessary information, but in THE BODY AT THE TOWER they acquire the possibility for life outside the story. And Mary is not just your average inexplicably competent female detective, but rather a young woman with demons of her own.I¿m not a big historical fiction OR mystery fan, but this series is one of my favorites, and probably my favorite historical mystery series. Well-written, eye-opening, and entertaining, you will dive in and be immersed immediately. THE BODY AT THE TOWER proves that Y. S. Lee is a rising star, and hasn¿t even reached her peak yet. I am on tenterhooks awaiting the third book, and more after that from this incredible author!
twonickels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another solid entry in this series. Mary starts to actually acknowledge how distant she feels from her Chinese background and how eager she is to keep it hidden in public, which I would really like to see explored further ¿ I thought it was the most interesting part of this book, and it was mostly glossed over. But the mystery was entertaining, and the romance was still quite a bit of fun.
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mcmullin More than 1 year ago
The Body at the Tower, is the #2 in Y.S.Lee's trilogy. It is a nail biter and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I highly recommend books #1 thru #3. How about a continuing series!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an easy enjoyable read. Kept me interested. I liked it because I've been reading such long mind boggling books and needed a break but still wanted some mystery. I have never read any of these younger type books but it was fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good!!!
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I enjoy this stories plot and characters. Great read.