NEED TO KNOW Karen Cleveland: do we want our spooks to be relatable?

3:00:00 AM

Reading Challenge: a spy thriller.

Thrillers to read now, 2018 Reading Challenge



I have to say, this was not at all what I expected when I picked up Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. 

Vivian, a CIA analyst helped by a new algorithm, discovers the identities of the members of a Russian spy ring in the US. One picture staring back on the screen is that of her husband Matt.
When I read the premise I expected this story to be a game of cat and mouse, but this was very much in line with other thrillers I've been reading. It made me think there's a new trend: the suburban mom thriller.
A strange genre, the stories are gripping, and the characters, due to their normalcy, are easy to emphasize with. Stick a normal person in an abnormal situation, let her be responsible for other creatures and see her crumble. The downside is that it's a book that makes you want to shout: get a grip. It's the equivalent of a horror movie, where you're riveted but irritated when somebody doesn't know the rules.
Anyway, Need to Know is that, Vivian is more mom than CIA analyst, she wants to quit to take care of her four children. After discovering her husband's secret she has to weigh the price of giving him up for love for her country, against the happiness of her family. 
I finished this in two days, it's a real page-turner. But I kept thinking what would Carrie or even Elisabeth in The Americans do in this situation, they wouldn't think twice, but Vivian is very much a normal woman, relatable and her sense of duty is shaky at best.
It's a strange genre, the mommy thriller, the stories are gripping, and the characters, due to their normalcy, are very easy to emphasize with. Stick a normal person in a very abnormal situation, let her be responsible for other creatures and see her crumble. The downside is that it's a book that makes you want to shout: get a grip. It's the equivalent of a horror movie, where it grips you but irritates you when somebody doesn't know the rules.
It explains a lot that Karen Cleveland herself is a CIA analyst. First, she could never give away real secrets, and I image Vivian's reaction would be how a normal CIA analyst would process the terrible news. But it lacks the bigger than life feeling, the outlandish places that fiction can take you.
What's up with all these books about women being betrayed by men, it's getting crowded out here. Is this a reflection of society, or a logical consequence of the successful thrillers that came before, and no I won't name them again, we all know them.
Anyway, read this if you are looking for a page-turner, and like that a character is accessible, just a normal person trying to do the right thing, but skip it if you hate getting annoyed by your main character's lack of assertiveness. Or willingness of playing by genre rules.
And after this I craved a more complicated spy story, hopefully, the book I am reading now will provide the high stakes I was looking for.

You Might Also Like

0 comments