When she was twelve, Mary was a housebreaking orphan, convicted and sentenced to the gallows. Five years later Mary is a well-educated, respectable young lady. Rescued from death by an unusual group of schoolteachers, she’s been taught to be independent and intelligent, an unusual education for Victorian girls. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy is recruiting and raising girls of special abilities. The Agency is a secret society of female detectives and Mary is about to join their numbers. Sent to a merchant’s house to uncover the truth of his missing cargo ships, Mary is to all appearances a demure young companion to his daughter. She quickly realises that the house is full of deceptions, respectability masking mystery.
I bought this because of the words ‘Victorian detective trilogy.’ I love the idea of Victorian Ladies tripping around having secret adventures while pretending to be respectable. A Spy in the House introduces the audience to this world along with Mary – she’s on her first assignment and she’s learning as she goes along. Mary’s an intelligent, active but impatient main character who, true to the book, is a lot more than meets the eye. She has a past that was buried even before she became a thief and this past of course catches up with her somewhat. Her tenuous partnership with James, a civil engineer with his own reasons to investigate the merchant, is nicely written. There are enough romantic sparks to entertain the audience while still leaving room for the relationship to develop in the next books. Specifically, there’s a great moment when they are stuck in a closet together.
A Spy in the House was fun, clever and well characterised. The investigation of missing Chinese sailors gave the book an extra depth in dealing with a culture not usually shown within Victorian London. It was (and I seem to be saying this more and more often these days) the first in a new series. However, I do think that A Spy in the House managed a good balance with some unanswered questions, but enough plot resolution to satisfy the reader. Did it live up to my expectations? I’d have liked to have seen more of the fashionable world to contrast with Mary’s illicit doings. I also felt that the investigation was over-complicated at times, but I did enjoy it. A solid good.