Thursday, April 12, 2018

Literally the Best Reviews: Need to Know

Need to Know - Karen Cleveland
Ballantine Books
304 Pages

Political espionage can be a tricky genre. Sometimes they are spectacular, like the early works of Tom Clancy. Other times they can be a tired retelling of a retelling of a retelling. It is a genre that I like, so I almost always pick them up when I’m at the library. This time, I picked up Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. Cleveland is a new author, testing her skills at the political thriller in her first novel. Right from the first page, I was hooked by the writing.

Vivian Miller is an analyst with the CIA, specializing in uncovering Russian sleeper cells. When the computer she has hacked unveils the members of a cell in the US, she is shocked to find the visage of her husband, Matt, staring back at her. After a decade of marriage and four children later, how can this be? Her discovery threatens her job at the Agency, her family, her children, and her very life.

The moment she tries to hide her discovery, her life is changed. When she confronts her husband with the allegations, he doesn’t deny them. His admission makes her question everything she has ever known. Does he really love her? Does he love the kids? Was any of it ever real? As she ponders over these questions and reminisces about the years spent with Matt, she uncovers minute clues that could have been clues to his transgressions.

Vivian has some tough choices to make. Does she betray her country or her husband? Where does loyalty end and treason begin? More importantly who can she trust as she struggles to protect her children from forces out of her control? This is the backbone of the story as she fights to take down the handler of Matt’s sleeper cell.

Karen Cleveland was a CIA analyst for eight years. She was able to draw on those experiences as she put together the narrative for this novel. The actions of Agency officials seem to be correct for the first part. There are some instances that seem a little far-fetched, but they still fit in with the story she was trying to tell.

Vivian is the only real character explored in this novel. The others are merely players that Vivian reacts to. They are cutouts as part of the background. This is more than made up for with the development of Vivian. She is a complex character who is drawn in several directions at the same time. Never does she have a simple decision to make. Each has significant pros and cons that force her to agonize over those decisions before she makes them and even after she’s committed to a course of action.

This was an exciting book to read. I didn’t know from one page to the next who the mole was in the Agency, but my initial guess was justified at the very end of the book. As for the status between Vivian and Matt, it seemed to me that trust came back rather quickly, but I’ve never been in a situation like that. Who knows how I would react, especially when kids were involved.

All in all, I really liked this book, and I hope that Karen Cleveland writes a follow up novel, maybe even a series. The ending of this book made me want to find out more of Karen’s future as the helicopter flew away. There is so much potential there. As I’ve stated before, I love series. I sincerely hope we get more adventures of Vivian Miller.

Craig Bacon sometimes he dreams he’s a spy. He has cool gadgets that would never work in real life, but make for excellent dreams. Plus, he can fly in every dream. Wouldn’t that make him a great spy?