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 written 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 of the pictures 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 lots of other thrillers I have been reading lately. It made me think there's a new trend: the suburban mom thriller.
Pick any genre in crime drama and instead of a surly lonely guy or gal, the typical outcast of society that frequents the standard thriller, put a mother in it and see what happens. They must have done some research before writing these books and see that this readers market is growing.
Anyway, Need to Know is exactly that, Vivian is more mom than CIA analyst, she constantly 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, her love for her country, against the happiness of her family. Should she shield the man that has betrayed her because he is as the father of her children?
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 the kind of book that makes you want to shout: get a grip. It's the equivalent of a horror movie, where you are riveted but irritated at the same time 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 terrible news. But it lacks the craziness, the bigger than life action, the outlandish places that fiction can take you.
What's up with all these books about women being betrayed by men, it's getting really crowded out here. Is this a reflection of society, or a logical consequences of the successful thrillers that came before, and no I won't name them again, at this point, we all know them.
Anyway read this is 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.

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