Lee, with her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, gives us a suspenseful and resonant glimpse of a fascinating moment in history. According to Kirkus Reviews“…the sights, smells and grim lives of London’s poor are richly detailed….”
Though Mary and the clandestine Agency operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls are unrealistic to the time period, they provide a terrific story against a backdrop of accurate and interesting history. I was hooked on Lee’s first book A Spy in the House, when Mary goes undercover during London’s Great Stink of 1858. A smelly situation that really happened. Says Lee,
“It was a particularly warm year and the smell from the grossly polluted Thames became, quite suddenly, unbearable. People panicked. Those who could fled London for the country. And the Great Stink finally pushed the government into cleaning up the Thames and modernizing London’s sewer system.
We know the bare facts: toilets flushed right into the Thames, and Londoners pumped the water straight back out for cooking and bathing. People thought the smell made you sick – not germs. And future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli fled the House of Commons one day with a handkerchief over his nose, so evil was the stench.”
Ah! Those were the good ol’ days.