The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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 quick witted 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.

You can read an excerpt here.


The Traitor in the Tunnel makes three for Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series, and I have to say, this latest installment is my favorite so far.

There has always been a lot to like about Mary Quinn – with her checkered past, spy training, and close-held secret of Asian ancestry, she makes for a fun bundle of competence and pluck. Mary is always very, very aware of how close she is to the edge – how close she came to dying on the other side of the poverty line, and how quickly she would be drummed out of polite society if the secret of her ancestry came out – and it adds a lovely, personal layer of tension to her investigating, as she has so much more to lose than most. Mary is also blessedly real in that she is far from perfect – she makes mistakes, and she definitely has a temper – and she is just all around a wonderful leading lady.

Now this series is always sumptuous in historic detail but here Lee has once again outdone herself. This story takes us inside Buckingham Palace, where Mary goes undercover as a maid, and it quickly and fascinatingly delves into the upstairs/downstairs realities of power and privilege. I utterly loved how this story took on the idea of the power of a woman’s reputation – and then demonstrated how dangerously easy it was to lose – but far and away my favorite part of this book was the inclusion of Queen Victoria herself. Lee really had fun bringing the Queen to life, shading her with liveliness and gumption, and the Queen downright steals every scene she’s in – as she should, being the Queen and all. Altogether it makes for just delicious historic fun.

As for the plot, the mysteries were engaging overall, but I have to admit I did have trouble with the utter convenience of Mary’s father’s appearance. The fact that her father just happened to appear at that particular place and time, and happened to get wrangled into a royal scandal at the very moment his daughter happened to be undercover in the palace – I had to work a bit to quash my incredulity. And though I did very much like what her father’s sudden reappearance did to Mary emotionally, and how it led her to reconsider her entire life, the fact that he appears pretty much with a bow tied around his neck at an opportune time was just a bit hard for me to swallow.

And now we have come to my greatest reservation about this series as a whole – to put it bluntly, the dynamic between Mary and James has always irritated me. I know, James is supposed to be lovably infuriating, a la Mr. Rochester, but for me, James is just infuriating. The way he constantly shakes Mary drives me nuts – yes, I know it’s supposed to be a lovable quirk, but I wanted nothing more than for Mary to slap him rather firmly upside the head every time he did it, which is just about every time they are together. And maybe I’m just ridiculously sensitive to condescension, but everything about the way James treats Mary felt high-handed to me, and it rubbed me the wrong way time and again – right up until this book, that is. This time around, happily, Lee firmly takes the couple a few steps in a new direction, and the shift in their dynamic was a blessed relief. At long last, James became someone I could root for Mary to be with – and yes, Shippers, you will be very happy with this book.

So in the end, The Traitor in the Tunnel is everything you could want from an Agency book – sneaking and sleuthing and romance, oh my – but it also takes a lovely step forward in terms of character, particularly in how Mary finally has to confront her own identity and chose who she wants to be. Easily my favorite book of the three – and here’s looking forward to the next!

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Brown Paper says:

The latest novel replicates the successful formula of its predecessors – Mary is assigned a minor case, which turns out to harbor myriad complications that involve her family secrets, and a run-in with the “better than handsome” James Easton. What’s not to like?

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