I've looked forward to the new Agency book for some time now. Good historical mystery series are legion in the adult realm, but harder to find in YA. Mary Quinn and her exploits definitely fit the bill. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the third entry, The Traitor in the Tunnel, it was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Overall, it's a good book and certainly worth a read, but it's the least satisfying entry so far.
The reason for my disappointment is the mystery aspect of the novel. The writing is still excellent, Mary is a great character, and her relationships with various other ancillary characters are further developed (in particular with James Easton). But most of the story centers around Mary's relationship with a man who may or may not be her long-dead father, and there wasn't much surprising or interesting to that portion.
The actual mystery of the book starts out very small: Mary has been assigned to Buckingham Palace as a parlor maid to investigate a series of petty thefts there. Soon, Mary stumbles across a larger mystery, which could send the entire royal family into scandal: the Prince of Wales was involved in a drunken altercation, and his friend was killed by a Lascar. The Lascar - an opium addict - has the same name as Mary's father, and Mary is determined to find out what happened that night and clear her maybe-father's name, if she can, as well as develop some sort of relationship with him.
Then there's a little to-do with the underground sewers needing repair, and James Easton's company has been hired to do the job. Here's where the real problem lies. The solutions to the mysteries I mentioned above (the thefts and the altercation with the Lascar) are pedestrian and not really mysteries at all. Telling you the solution would be spoiling it, but really, there's nothing to spoil. What could have been interesting was the mystery in the sewers, but it's not explored until very late in the book, and the climax follows within a few dozen pages of it being introduced.
The last thing I'll mention is actually a spoiler, so if you plan to read this book and haven't yet, stop reading now. Near the end of the book, the Agency splits up. Its two managers, Anne Treleaven and Felicity Frame, had been having divergent ideas about how the Agency should be run: Felicity wanted to involve men and take cases on a larger scale, whereas Anne wanted to keep it strictly women-only and keep the cases small and unobtrusive. At the end of the Traitor in the Tunnel, the Agency has been dissolved and Mary is left to decide which person she will follow, or to strike out on her own.
I really wasn't a huge fan of this turn of events - the series is called "The Agency" after all, and part of what drew me to the books is that they were about an all-female spy agency. When that's taken away, it doesn't seem nearly as interesting. I'll still read the other books, but I'm curious to see what direction Lee plans to takes the series now that the Agency is apparently out of the picture.
Although the mysteries were a letdown, I did really like Mary's interactions with James Easton (pretty swoony, I must admit). Octavius Jones also makes a return, and the scenes he shares with Mary are pretty darn funny. I also have to give major credit to Lee for the subplot involving Mary and the Prince of Wales. Mary contemplates doing something pretty major, and the way it's described reminded me that I was reading a book about a woman who was now twenty years old - no longer a teenager. It also reminded me that spies in Mary's situation really do have to contemplate doing some pretty major stuff, despite how unrealistic the idea of The Agency actually is.
Book borrowed from my local library.