A woman may be putting herself in jeopardy when she becomes an amateur spy to help her secret agent sister in Mackey’s debut thriller.
Nora isn’t happy that big sister Giselle makes a surprise appearance at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Giselle, as usual, takes the spotlight, regaling the group with her rousing spy stories. But she may need a break: she asks Nora along for her latest assignment, courtesy of an unnamed clandestine organization. The two head to Barlanadana Island, where Giselle can relax with drinks and give Nora a crash course in spying. Nora’s target is Tommy the Twitch, who’s planning to finance a coup with drug-trafficking funds. But surveillance isn’t easy, and dodging baddies and bullets is not the cakewalk Giselle implied. Nora, not the most flamboyant spy around, will have to rely on her instincts—and a spot of good luck—if she hopes to make it back to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, alive. The novel boasts a pragmatic protagonist with incentive: she’s in it for the money, needing at least $10,000 just to get her beloved boat running again. While Nora tends to stumble upon danger while in spy mode, her grandest bit of espionage concerns her sister; there’s a reason that Giselle is unmistakably nervous and intermittently stopping at an Internet cafe. Mackey wisely keeps her story light with a largely tongue-in-cheek approach, so readers can accept Nora’s uncanny success as a pseudo-spy. Nora, for example, can already handle herself in a physical altercation, using skills from dance classes (including sidestepping punches with some cha-cha). Many of the villains also turn out to be enjoyably incompetent, like the man who holds a gun on Nora before inadvertently shooting himself. The amateur spy does some things a little too well, most notably her recently acquired marksmanship. It’s more fun to watch her in precarious predicaments, as when the bad guys check people for a signature tattoo and she tries to make her own—with a Sharpie. Mackey’s often playful writing helps maintain a balance between Nora’s prowess and her lack of experience: sure, she can fight, but, as Giselle says, she’ll have to work “on her flirting skills.” The author deftly rounds out her tale with an unlikely ally or two for Nora and hilarious jokes, including Nora misunderstanding what a philatelist (a stamp collector) is: “I’ve heard rumors that Uncle George might be….”
A breezy novel that delivers an appealing, down-to-earth heroine dabbling in espionage.