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Books 101-102: The Body at the Tower and The Traitor and the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee

Book 101: The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2).
Author: Y.S. Lee, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Victorian England. Mystery. YA.
Other Details: Paperback. 344 pages.

In this second story set in 1859, Mary Quinn is now nearly a full-fledged detective for the all-female detective agency that operates out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. A death on the building site for the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament leads to Mary working undercover disguised as a boy taken on as an apprentice builder. Her cover is threatened when she encounters someone she'd met during her first assignment (A Spy in the House).

Again this proved an enjoyable historical romp with this appealing, feisty heroine that also highlighted the plight of London's poor. It wasn't until the final few pages that my trusty timey-whimey detector went off with a very loud beep. Yes, rather than the glaring anachronism of Mary having been sentenced to death for a crime that two decades previously had been dropped from the list of capital crimes be quietly dropped from the story it came centre stage again. I have to admit it bothers me that the author hasn't even addressed this change to legal history as 'dramatic license' or a slightly alternative history setting in an afterword. I'd hate to think that because this is marketed as YA fiction that this kind of fuzzy history is considered an unimportant detail.

Y.S. Lee's page on 'The Body at the Tower' - includes link to excerpt and other items including deleted scene.

Book 102: The Traitor and the Tunnel (The Agency #3) .
Author: Y.S. Lee, 2011.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Victorian England. Mystery. YA.
Other Details: Paperback. 376 pages.

Titled in the US 'The Traitor in the Tunnel', this third outing for Mary Quinn has her taking on an assignment at Buckingham House going undercover as a domestic servant in order to discover the identity of a petty thief in the Royal Household. When one of the Prince of Wales' young friends is killed during an outing to a disreputable East End establishment, Mary is shocked to learn that the killer, a drug-addicted Chinese sailor shares the same name as her long-lost beloved father. In addition, James Easton's engineering firm has been employed to undertake the sensitive job of repairing the sewers under the palace. When he finds a tunnel not on the official plans, his suspicions are aroused and he and Mary's paths cross once again.

Lee winds these three plot threads together in a satisfying conclusion to the original trilogy, though the depiction of life in Buck House and the interaction between Mary and various royal personages did seem a little 'off' reminding me of appearances of some historical figures in episodes of 'Doctor Who'. Mary did make some progress in coming to terms with her mixed-racial background, which has been an ongoing theme in all three novels. My timey-whimey detector only beeped slightly this time and mainly because of the claim that in 1860 convicts were no longer being transported to Australia whereas the practice didn't formally end until 1868.

Still I've enjoyed Mary Quinn as a character and these romps even with the timey-whimey wibble wobbles and can see that there is scope for further adventures, which seems to be the case Lee has said there will be a fourth book, which she is still writing as of July 2012.

In terms of the covers, I still prefer the US covers featuring model Amber Ahlquist as Mary over the UK ones.

Y. S. Lee's page on 'The Traitor and the Tunnel' - including excerpt, deleted scenes and cover art for various editions.
Tags: historical mysteries, historical romance, young adult
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