Rivals in the City, by Y. S. Lee, was published in 2014 by Candlewick Press. It is the sequel to The Traitor in the Tunnel.
Spoilers for the first book, A Spy in the House.
October 1860–Convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and the Agency asks Mary to take on one last case: to watch for the return of his estranged wife. Mrs. Thorold is an accomplished criminal herself and will surely want to settle the score with James Easton, Mary’s fiancé and partner in crime-solving. Add family secrets and conflicting loyalties to the mix, and the stakes for all involved are higher than ever.
The mystery in Rivals in the City is not particularly complex, but it serves as a nice bookend to the Agency series. The series begins and ends with Mary’s interactions with the Thorolds, which gives this book a sense of finality. I’d be surprised if we see more Agency novels after this one.
Bookending aside, nothing particularly remarkable stood out in Rivals. The mystery was straightforward and lacked a “whodunit,” being more of a “wheredunit” if that makes sense. Basically, the only mystery is in what Mrs. Thorold is going to steal and where. Not a bad thing, but I do prefer “whodunits” myself.
I’m also disappointed that we didn’t see any more development or dimensionality to James. We get to see a lot of him in the first book and then he sort of fades away in subsequent books, becoming just “Mary’s romantic interest” rather than a fully-fledged character in his own right. The stereotyping that I noticed so much in the first three books is definitely lessened, if only because James is practically the only man in this book (I’m exaggerating. He’s just the one who shows up the most). He’s also the only prominent and reoccurring male in the series. The female-centric aspect is not a bad thing, but for being the prominent example, James is a poor male character. He’s also just a poor character in general, really good for nothing but the romance.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Murder, a small amount of violence, kissing.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult
“There you are, Jamie!” called a beloved but presently most unwelcome voice. George strode through the hall to greet him. As he approached, however, his expression changed from impatient welcome to indignant perplexity. “What on earth happened to you? You’re not injured, are you? Oh, heavens, you need a doctor! Mrs. Vine!” He bellowed these last words, and their housekeeper popped into view half a moment later.
Normal speech was trampled in their joint uproar. “Please!” James shouted after a minute’s doomed effort. “I’m fine. I should like a wash, and then a peaceful dinner, if you please. I’ll tell you what happened afterward,” he added.
“I say,” said a new voice from the first floor. “I do hope I’m not intruding. Ought I to come back another time?”
James stared up the flight of stairs. “Oh, it’s you, Alleyn,” he said after a moment. “Pay no attention to us. George likes a good bellow when I get home from the office.”
Rivals in the City is a nice finish (I presume) to the Agency series, bringing everything full-circle. The mystery wasn’t all that complex, and I mourn the fact that James never got any decent development beyond being Mary’s love interest, but Rivals was solid, and still better than the awful Body at the Tower.
You can buy this here: The Agency 4: Rivals in the City