Thursday, February 23, 2012

Author Interview & Book Review: The Agency: The Traitor In The Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

Title: The Agency: The Traitor In The Tunnel

Author: Y.S. Lee

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: February 2012

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book Three

Synopsis can be found here.
Netgalley review.

Mary Quinn is back and surrounded my another fantastic mystery! This time, she a parlour maid at Buckingham Palace, investigating a series of thefts that have occurred right under the Queen's nose!
But while she's there, an even bigger mystery is placed at her feet. And she must do everything she can to solve it. More than one life is at stake, and Mary may have a very personal relationship to the suspect...

One of my favorite YA series is back and let me tell you, I am so happy to see Mary and company again! The layers and layers of mystery are delicately laid over this well written story. Mary has to juggle more than one case, all while working undercover. Only her mentors at the Agency know where she is, who she really is.
That is, until Easton Engineering take on a project that brings her beloved James Easton right to the Palace door! Or, uh, to the Palace's underground tunnels!

As the story gains speed, it was impossible for me to put it down. So many questions needed answering and as Mary delved deeper into the Palace, she came across more than one threat. Lee has done a beautiful job at creating real tension and danger to Mary without it seeming sensational or unrealistic. Mary uses her wits to get her out of these situations, one of my favorite things about the detective.

The encounters between Mary and James made my heart smile, swoon, break and do it all over again. Their relationship is far from perfect, but they balance each other out, each clever, smart and stubborn in their own ways, driving the other mad with admiration, love and passion. A perfect match I say! Bravo to Lee for creating James and Mary, a couple who push and push each other, making their partner a better person. This is a healthy, strong relationship you will want to root for.

If you haven't read the other Agency books, what are you waiting for? It's one of the best underrated series. Everyone should be reading them!

And as for this third installment, you can pick it up without reading the first two. Go on. A classic mystery awaits!

Rating 10 One of The Best

Author Interview with Y.S. Lee!

Thank you so much for stopping by! 

What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always been obsessed with words and stories. But growing up, I never thought seriously about becoming a writer: it seemed too impossible even to aim for, so I settled for academia (I was going to be an English professor) as the next best thing. As I finished my PhD, though, I realized that I didn’t want to be an academic. It felt like my last chance to try writing fiction before I had to choose another career. So I sat down and wrote the novel that became the first Agency novel, A Spy in the House.

What was the last book you read?
The Chinese Maze Murders, by Robert van Gulik – an old-school mystery written in the style of classical Chinese detective fiction.

What sparked the idea of your books?
I knew I wanted to write about Victorian London and was especially interested in exploring it from the perspective of a young, poor, rebellious girl. Once I had my setting and my main character, things unfolded very quickly. I’d read about Lascars (Asian sailors) who ended up settling in England and marrying white English women, and I began to wonder about the families of these mixed-race couples. I was also distressed by the typical fate of a poor girl who didn’t have much education. (If she was good and meek, she might find work as a housemaid or in a factory. She had a high chance of dying young, either of malnutrition, disease, or a childbirth-related illness.) Creating the Agency, a super-secret corps of female spies, was a kind of antidote, or counter-argument, to the depressing realities of life in Victorian London.

You have a PhD in Victorian literature and culture. Is that why you chose the setting and time for your novel to be in the Victorian era?
Absolutely. I was doing a lot of research into nineteenth-century politics and culture and found that I wanted to learn more about the daily lives of the Victorians – how they ate and bathed and amused themselves. These things had no place in my dissertation, and I wanted to find a home for them. I chose the setting first; the mystery element came later. I tend to be inspired by particular events in history – for example, I knew that the Great Stink of 1858 just had to be the backdrop for A Spy in the House – and then fit the rest of the story around them.

James and Mary have real chemistry together. The banter back and forth is equally charming and real. Are their scenes together your favorite to write?
Thank you! Yes, you guessed it – I love, love, love writing dialogue between Mary and James. It’s like dessert. Sometimes, I use it like an incentive: if I write a certain amount of something else, I get to write a big chunk of Mary’s and James’s next conversation.

What was the biggest challenge writing your novel?
For each novel I’ve written, I’ve become sick of it when two-thirds of the way through the first draft. The story seems dull, the premise ridiculous, the characters wooden. Pushing through that slump and finishing a full draft is the hardest part, for me.

How do you like your potato?
French-fried! Skinny, very crisp, nicely browned, with plenty of salt, please. (No, I’m not picky. Why do you ask?)

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Ooh, this is tough. I think I’d still be a writer, but an unpublished, aspiring one with a day job (any day job) that kept body and soul together.

Do you have a favorite literary character?
I have so many! My favourite detective is Peter Wimsey; my favourite Austen heroine is (of course) Elizabeth Bennet; my favourite bossy, intrepid, neo-Victorian dame is Amelia Peabody Emerson.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
At the moment, I mostly wrangle small children and steal time to read. At other stages of my life, however, I’ve been passionate about yoga, baking, crafting, and community politics. I plan to find my way back to all these things one day!

What is one thing you would tell aspiring writers?
You have to be a reader before you can be a writer. Read widely and deeply, and remember to leave your comfort zone.

What is your next book about and when is it coming out?
My next book is the fourth and final Mary Quinn novel, called Rivals in the City. It’s set just a few months after Traitor and in it, we’ll meet an all-too-familiar villain, as well as someone with a claim on Mary’s life and family. I’m still writing it, so there’s no official pub date yet. But I’ll keep you updated at my blog! 

Thank you again for stopping by Y.S. Lee!
You can visit Y.S. Lee here or follow her on twitter @yinglee


  1. I have only recently discovered this series and really liked the first book. I will be reading the others as well. Thanks for the review.
    Great interview. I am always amazed at how accomplished an author can be, even with wee ones to care for.
    -FABR Steph@FiveAlarmBookReviews

    1. Thanks for stopping by Steph!
      I love this series and I'm so happy that all the books are well written and fun!

  2. Fascinating interview! Thanks so much, Kimberly and Y.S.

    I can blame my ethnocentrism for not realizing that there's a rich tradition of Chinese detective fiction. I'm looking forward to checking that out in addition to diving into The Traitor in the Tunnel --

    1. Thanks for commenting Kristen! I hope you enjoy the first Agency book as much as I did! It's one of the few books I can re-read and still enjoy like the first time!