The Traitor in the Tunnel, by Y. S. Lee, was published in 2012 by Candlewick Press. It is the sequel to The Body at the Tower.
Queen Victoria has a problem: there’s a petty thief at work in the Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency assigns quick-witted Mary Quinn to the case. Posing as a domestic in the royal household and fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales are challenge enough, but when the prince witnesses a murder in an opium den—and scandal threatens the royal family—Mary learns that the accused killer may be someone very close to her. Engineer and former flame James Easton, meanwhile, has his own assignment, in the sewers beneath the palace, where someone is making illicit use of the tunnels. Can Mary and James put their simmering feelings aside long enough to expose the trespasser—and avert disaster?
Yes! Finally! After the not-so-great Body at the Tower, I was pleased when The Traitor in the Tunnel completely renewed my enjoyment in the series and proved that Lee can do both mystery and character development at once. One of the problems with Body was that the emphasis on the detective work and the murder made the plot drag, and the character development was put on the back burner. Traitor, however, brings back the character development full force, with no less than three mini-mysteries to solve (all connected, sort of, but dealt with separately), but Lee balances everything very well. I actually think this is my favorite out of the three Agency novels I’ve read, simply because Traitor is less in-your-face than A Spy in the House and way better in terms of plot and character development than Body.
I wasn’t sure whether to be irritated or pleased that the “who was that girl you were with?” plot line didn’t really go anywhere. On the one hand, it was a prominent moment at the beginning that had a profound effect on Mary, so I expected more to come out of that. On the other hand, it’s an overused trope and I’m glad Lee didn’t dwell on the romance angst.
I still think the men are ironically stereotypical, and the condescension of every (prominent/important) female towards men is almost laughable, but Traitor really improved the Agency novels in my eyes, so I can’t complain too much. I do wish James was given more character development, as Mary is the only one who seems to be getting any, but I still think he and Mary are cute together.
Also, the first line of the first chapter of this novel is one of the best ways to start a chapter I’ve ever read.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Murder, a small amount of violence, some sensual/sexual situations.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult
She watched the prince a few minutes longer. His was a hysterical sort of sobbing—theatrical, even. Finally, when it began to subside, Mary knelt beside his chair. “It’s not an easy life, yours,” she said quietly.
“Nooooo,” he agreed with a sort of wail.
In other circumstances, it would have been difficult not to laugh. Yet there was so much at stake just now. Every word of Bertie’s was precious. “Nobody really understands what it’s like.”
His eyes welled up with tears in earnest now, and he began to blub again. “I—I’m so miserable…and so alone.”
The Traitor in the Tunnel is a breath of fresh air after the disappointing The Body at the Tower, combining decent mystery and great character development (for Mary) into a book that has redeemed my interest in the Agency novels. I wish James wasn’t so one-dimensional, and there’s still a teensy bit too much of the “females are better than males, rah rah rah” subtext, but overall, I think Traitor is both my favorite novel and the best so far in the Agency series.
You can buy this here: The Traitor in the Tunnel