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.
Oh my god!! It is rare that I find a series that sucks me in the way that Y.S. Lee's Agency series has. It is even rarer when every book in a series gets a 5-Star ranking from me, but that is what happened with these historical mysteries.
For those of you who are unaware, The Agency is a young adult historical mystery series that tells of the adventures of Mary Quinn. Mary is a former street thief who was saved from execution/transportation and given the opportunity to be educated at a charity school. After graduating, she was offered a position in the Agency which is a group of female spies who go undercover in a variety of places to help out clients. In earlier installments of this series, readers have seen Mary as a lady's companion and as a twelve year old boy. Now, Mary has become a housemaid in Queen Victoria's household to discover the truth about possible thievery amongst the servants.
My favorite thing about this series is watching Mary grow into a confident spy and an independent young woman. Her past was tragic, but it has been a joy to see her overcome it to become successful in her chosen career. It is very clear that Mary is no longer a novice within the Agency. She has experience and confidence in her abilities that has been lacking in some of her earlier missions. Mary has become less reactive and impulsive to what goes on around her, but she still hasn't lost that innate curiousity that makes her so fun to read about. She has also grown mature and aware of her feelings about certain complex topics like her heritage (half-Asian) and her personal feelings for young architect, James Easton. Despite her flaws, Mary is definitely an admirable and realistic historical heroine that would be a great role model for many teenage girls.
And speaking of James, it wouldn't be an Agency novel without that clever and stoic young man popping up in the middle of Mary's investigation. James, like Mary, has grown up during the series. He has realized how judgmental he was about certain things and wants to pursue a different relationship with Mary. It is a sure sign of maturity when one evaluates one's earlier priorities and figures out where one is incorrect or hasty. Readers do not get as much of James's point of view as in earlier installments, but I found that to be a great way for the author to hide his true motives.
Mary and James continue to be a fascinating "couple" with their opposing social standings, but obvious chemistry. Both of them have difficulty trusting others, but have learned to let their guard down with each other. In The Traitor in the Tunnel, readers see Mary intentionally pursue James's assistance (which she avoided at all costs before) and James deal with his protective nature when it comes to Mary's independence. I look forward to the next book to see more of this potential romance especially after certain events occurred near the end.
The mystery in this book begins in a fairly simplistic manner, but any fan of Mary's knows that it can easily become complex. In her investigation of the thievery, Mary discovers a mysterious tunnel underneath the palace and she, and James, try to decipher its connection to the royals. It was entertaining to watch Mary deal with both mysteries at the same time while trying to maintain her cover as a housemaid.
Another thing I enjoyed about this book was the inclusion of Queen Victoria and her family. I have always been fascinated by this lady and loved seeing how Y.S. Lee depicted her and her relationship with her husband and children. It was also fun to see the inner workings of a large English household...fans of Downton Abbey would definitely find the escapades of the servants fascinating.
This book does end with some lingering questions about the future of the Agency and Mary, and James's, role in it. Y.S. Lee is doing a fourth, and final, installment, and I personally cannot wait to see more of this interesting world of mystery, drama, and romance.
Rating: 5 Stars
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body at the Tower
3. The Traitor in the Tunnel
4. Rivals in the City (To Be Released)