The Agency for Scandal by Laura Wood

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As a fan of historical fiction, Georgette Heyer and detective novels, I was thrilled to read the blurb of The Agency for Scandal, promising a story about an all-female detective agency, a feisty young heroine who has a crush on a Duke and missing jewels. Then I read that it had been nominated for the 2024 Yoto Carnegie Medal and I knew that I was in for a treat.

Isobel Stanhope looks like the perfect wallflower. She hovers in alcoves at balls, and wears nondescript clothes, making it easy to overlook her. But she is hiding a lot of secrets. She has a crush on the Duke of Roxton but he can never remember her name. Her family has lost its wealth and she has had to find a job to support her ailing mother and brother who is away at school. At night she has another persona, masquerading as Kes, a youth who is an expert pick lock, working for the Aviary, where Mrs Finch operates an all-female agency that investigates cases where women desperately need help. When she becomes involved in stealing a mysterious brooch, she and the Duke pair up together, donning various disguises to unravel the secrets it is harbouring. As they work together the duo get to know each other and the Duke is forced to examine a society where women have no rights and are dominated by husbands and brothers.

With a deft hand, Wood describes the role of women in the late 19th century as the women from the Aviary help those in distress from husbands who gamble away their money or threaten their sanity. This serious theme is cleverly brought to light in the Aviary’s cases and Izzy’s thoughts about marriage.

I finished this charming book in two sittings, and although it was over 500 pages long, it had wide margins and attractive illustrations as chapter headings, making it an easy read. And of course, the fast-paced plot and budding romance made it difficult to put down. Fans of the Enola Holmes books by Nancy Springer, the Bridgerton series as well as books by Georgette Heyer are likely to enjoy The Agency for Scandal, and those who like espionage in a modern setting could turn to Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu.

Themes: Detectives, Women, Upper classes, Great Britain - 19th century.

Pat Pledger