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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel

Title: The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel
Author: Y.S. Lee
Page Count: 373 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: historical mystery, YA
Copy for review compliments of the public library

Cover Summary:
Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Queen Victoria has a little problem: there's a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency puts quickwitted Mary Quinn on the case, where she must pose as a domestic while fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales. But when the prince witnesses the murder of one of his friends in an opium den, the potential for scandal looms large. And Mary faces an even more unsettling possibility: the accused killer, a Chinese sailor imprisoned in the Tower of London, shares a name with her long-lost father. Meanwhile, engineer James Easton, Mary's onetime paramour, is at work shoring up the sewers beneath the palace, where an unexpected tunnel seems to be very much in use. Can Mary and James trust each other (and put their simmering feelings aside) long enough to solve the mystery and protect the Royal Family? Hoist on your waders for Mary's most personal case yet, where the stakes couldn't be higher - and she has everything to lose.

Book three in the Agency series keeps up the interesting precedent set by the first two books in the series.  I was under the impression that this was going to be a trilogy and so I went into reading this installment expecting the whole shebang to be wrapped up at the end of this book.  Happily, I discovered that there will be a fourth book! This became even better news for me once I'd finished this book.

Mary Quinn is hard at work at the onset of this book, trying to figure out who's pilfering collectibles from Buckingham Palace.  It may seem like small potatoes, but the author does an excellent job of illustrating how an accusation of stealing against a palace servant or staff member would be devastating and render them pretty much unemployable.  The balance of power is nonexistent- the employer has the power and the employees are at the mercy of that power, full stop.

Mary isn't making much headway in her investigation and so she returns to the Agency to hopefully get some guidance.  She does get guidance, in a fashion, because her employers tell her that her ex-flame, James Easton, is the engineer who'll be working on the sewers that run under the palace and that it's entirely likely she'll run into him.  Mary had figured James was out of her life forever- this was one of the few times that Mary figured wrong.

Mary also grapples with the issue of her heritage, having recently discovered that her father was a Chinese sailor.  Much to her surprise, her father reappears in London, having been accused of murdering a young nobleman in an opium den in the presence of the Prince of Wales.  This event brings all of Mary's issues that had been simmering away to a full boil- she has to deal with her heritage if she's going to find a way to get her father acquitted, she has to deal with her feelings for James, and she has to deal with her job and making sure her cover isn't blown.  It's a tough order but Mary is up for the challenge.

James redeemed himself early on in this book for me, as he had kind of been an epic douchebag in the last book in the series.  Mary is very self aware and so she asks all the right questions of James- what changed his feelings?  James gives the perfect answer- he was a narrow minded ass and he realizes that now.  No qualifications, no exceptions.  It was excellent.

We also discover that the missing collectibles are the side show to the main event of happenings at Buckingham Palace.  The situation escalates quickly and there were lots of historical details that helped to keep the pace of the story cooking right along.

At the end of the book, Mary finds herself at an interesting crossroads.  Her two mentors from the Academy are parting ways- one wants to maintain the Academy as it's always been (a place where women from dire straits can find decent employment and a safe life and place to live and help solve mysteries) and one wants to go full force into forming a politically-based intelligence organization.  Mary is in the position of being able to determine her own life's path for the first time in her life, and I'm interested to see how her choices play out in the next book.

It's worth mentioning that the author's website, YSLee.com, has lots and lots of interesting facts and stories that stretch all the way back to the onset of the series.  I highly recommend checking it out.

You can certainly count me in for the next book in this series, and anything else from this author, frankly.  I'm definitely a fan.

Overall Rating:

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