An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer

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An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A strong and thrilling debut, An Unlikely Agent whisks the reader away to the dark and dangerous streets of Edwardian London in the company of a capable female lead.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Polygon
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846973802

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London, 1905. Margaret Trant lives with her ailing, irascible mother in a dreary boarding house in St John's Wood. The pair have fallen on hard times, with only Margaret's meagre salary from a ramshackle import-export company keeping them afloat. When a stranger on the tram hands her a newspaper open at the recruitment page, Margaret spots an advertisement that promises to 'open new horizons beyond your wildest dreams!'. After a gruelling interview, she finds herself in a new position as a secretary in a dingy backstreet shop. But all is not as it seems; she is in fact working for a highly secret branch of the intelligence service, Bureau 8, whose mission is to track down and neutralise a ruthless band of anarchists known as the Scorpions. Margaret's guilty love of detective fiction scarcely prepares her for the reality of true criminality, and her journey of self-discovery forms the heart of this remarkable novel, as she discovers in herself resourcefulness, courage, independence and the first stirrings of love.

The Edwardian era is one that I feel could be a potentially fascinating setting for fiction, a time shortly after the long reign of Queen Victoria had ended, and one in which the country was filled with the endless possibilities that came with both a new King and a new Century. Instead many authors seem to be drawn to either the pomp and circumstance of the Victorian era, or the beautiful and damned of the 1920's, which whilst I do understand the draw, means that the Edwardian era seems rather under represented in fiction. Step forward then Jane Menczer, who with her plucky heroine Margaret Trant, plunges the reader into 1905 and intricately weaves remarkably evocative descriptions of the time into a riveting plot.

As a lead character, Margaret is an immediately likeable presence. Menczer does a fantastic job here of creating a character who manages to seem both comfortably Edwardian and yet remarkably modern - out of her time enough to make her a compelling, driven and powerful lead, but never going far enough to make her seem too out of place for the time in which she's operating. The story she is drawn into is at once exciting, compelling and tense - yet through Margaret's eyes the reader enjoys a comfortable ride across the events of the tale - one which may leave them a little out of breath and rather bedraggled, but always eager to uncover the next mystery dotted throughout the pages.

A large number of themes and concepts are introduced here, which can often weigh down the first book in a series. No such issues affect the author here though - her sense of pace combined with clear grasp of character and period make this a read that flows like a wild river - packed full of eddies and rapids the will leave the reader exhilarated. Many thanks to the publisher for the copy.

For further reading I recommend The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin. A darker read than An Unlikely Agent it nevertheless packs a fascinating crime story amongst an evocatively depicted time and place.

Buy An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer at Amazon.com.


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