cover image An Unlikely Agent

An Unlikely Agent

Jane Menczer. Polygon, $13.95 trade paper (386p) ISBN 978-1-84697-380-2

Margaret Trant, the heroine of Menczer’s pallid debut set in 1905, has worked for years as a secretary for a small London export firm run by Horace Plimpson, a friend of her late father. She’s distraught when her employer informs her that the business will be relocating because of some unspecified problems, which forces her to find some other employment. Serendipitously, a stranger hands her a newspaper he claims she dropped that happens to be open to a page containing an ad for a “unique” secretarial position that would “open new horizons.” After a brief interview consisting principally of questions about her former boss, Margaret is offered the position, only to learn that she’s been hired to work for a shadowy government agency known simply as Bureau 8, whose operatives are on the trail of the Society of Scorpions, a secret group bent on overthrowing the British government. The story line follows predictable paths, and the overabundance of genre tropes isn’t compensated for by either memorable writing or characterization. (Nov.)