REVIEW: The Traitor and the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

Queen Victoria has a little problem: there’s a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Mary Quinn takes the simple case, going undercover as a domestic servant. But before long, a scandal threatens to tear apart the Royal Family.

One of the Prince of Wales’s irresponsible young friends is killed in disgraceful circumstances. Should the Queen hush things up or allow justice to take its course? Mary’s interest in this private matter soon becomes deeply personal: the killer, a drug-addicted Chinese sailor, shares a name with her long-lost father.

Meanwhile, James Easton’s engineering firm is repairing the sewers beneath Buckingham Palace. Trouble is, there’s a tunnel that’s not on the plans. Its purpose is unclear. But it seems to be very much in use.

These overlapping puzzles offer a perfect opportunity for Mary and James to work together again… if they can still trust one another. This is Mary’s most personal case yet and she has everything to lose.

“He looked … wonderful. Partly because he was James Easton, clever, sardonic, intense, and far and away the most interesting man she’d ever met.”

The Traitor and the Tunnel (US title: The Traitor in the Tunnel) is the third book in the Mary Quinn Mysteries / The Agency Series. Set in Victorian England in 1860, the plot revolves around Mary Quinn, an operative of the secretive Agency, which employs women as spies due to their near-invisibility in Victorian society. Compared to the plot and pacing of the prior two books, The Traitor and the Tunnel is slightly more uneven but it’s so readable that this actually doesn’t matter. 

“You have been torn free of your roots; that was heartbreaking. But it would be a greater tragedy still to allow past griefs and the sins of others to destroy your life now.”

I absolutely love the character of Mary. She’s smart, capable, and brave, with a strand of vulnerability due to her hidden half-Chinese background and criminal past. This book deals more than ever with the consequences of being half-Chinese during the Second Opium War, and the rough treatment Chinese people could expect at the hands of the English. This is Mary’s first case as a full-fledged operative and we learn how capable a detective Mary has become. Coincidentally meeting James Easton once again, Mary and James form a partnership before finally seeming to reach a resolution in their relationship. I love the interactions between James and Mary, especially their mutual respect, so was pleased to see how much they had both matured.

“He smiled. “I suppose I thought we’d have a madly impractical, terrifyingly modern sort of marriage. One based on love. Not to mention dangerous undertakings and hair’s-breadth escapes from burning buildings, high ledges and exploding sewers.” 

Lee sensitively explores issues of family, race, and gender, questioning the choices we make and the consequences they can have on those closest to us. I’m really looking forward to reading the last book in the series, Rivals in the City. I’m desperate to learn what happens next with Mary and James, and to see if Mary’s newest venture will be a success.

I would recommend this series to lovers of YA who like historical mysteries and romance.

(Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads)

  About the Author

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011. 

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