Being a traditional 1950s wife and mother turns out to be perfect training for spycraft.

A WOMAN OF INTELLIGENCE

A well-off young mother is recruited as an undercover agent by the FBI in this historical thriller.

Post–World War II New York is a great place to be young and single, if you’re Katharina West. The multilingual Columbia graduate lands a dream job as a translator at the U.N. and spends nights and weekends with her girl squad downing cocktails and entertaining suitors. For Rina, that ends when she marries Tom Edgeworth, an impossibly handsome, charming, rich pediatric surgeon. A few years later, Rina is ensconced in a swell Fifth Avenue apartment, she’s the mother of two little boys, and she’s miserable. The babies overwhelm her, and Tom has become a workaholic bully who expects her to have no life beyond her family. She’s drinking a lot. One day after she has a public meltdown, she’s approached by Lee Coldwell, an FBI agent with an interesting proposition. Jacob Gornev, an old college beau of hers, is a communist and Soviet agent. Would she like to help the FBI investigate him? To Rina, this sounds like even more fun than her U.N. job, and in the midst of the 1950s Red Scare, she feels she’d be doing her patriotic duty—so what if it involves lying to her husband? Seeing Jacob again stirs up old feelings, but she’s even more stirred by Turner Wells, an undercover FBI agent who, he tells Rina, is “only the tenth Negro they ever let play the game.” The game, though, will turn deadly, as such games do. Tanabe crafts the historical setting convincingly, and, although the dialogue can sometimes veer toward mini lectures, the novel moves at a brisk pace even as she weaves together the stories of Rina’s domestic dilemmas and her adventures as an undercover agent. Perhaps the most subversive thing about the twinned stories is this: how well the masks and performances Rina puts on as wife and mother prepare her for the world of espionage.

Being a traditional 1950s wife and mother turns out to be perfect training for spycraft.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2502-3150-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

THE CELLIST

Gabriel Allon goes after the deadliest weapon at the Russian president’s disposal—his money.

When CIA agent–turned–art dealer Sarah Bancroft finds the dead body of Viktor Orlov, a wealthy newspaper publisher and Russian dissident, the grim discovery leads Gabriel Allon, the head of Israel’s intelligence service, to a treasure trove of documents detailing massive financial crimes. Once he tracks down the woman who leaked these documents, Gabriel may finally have the tools he needs to take down the autocrat in the Kremlin. “A nuclear bomb can only be dropped once. But money can be wielded every day with no fallout and no threat of mutually assured destruction.” This bit of wisdom comes from a Russian operative Gabriel captured in The Other Woman (2018), and Silva makes a persuasive case that the best way to neutralize the threat of troll farms and disinformation campaigns is to starve these operations of cash. But this is a thriller, not an essay in Foreign Policy. It turns out that money laundering isn’t inherently exciting, and Silva does little to make it so. Identifying the shadowy figure who manages the Russian president’s fortune is easy, as is infiltrating his world. All the characters in this universe are types, but most of them are crafted with verisimilitude sufficient to keep the reader engaged. The titular cellist, Isabel Brenner, is a beautiful blond blank. It’s not at all clear why she makes the transition from functionary at a dirty bank to amateur spy willing to risk her life to ruin oligarchs. In previous novels, Silva wove in chapters written from the points of view of the bad guys. This technique creates dramatic irony, and it has given us some truly terrific villains—horrifying sadists and gleeful monsters of corruption who make excellent foils for the nearly superhuman Gabriel. Past installments have also given Gabriel's team more to do, and it’s impossible not to miss them and their spycraft.

As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-283486-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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