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ILIUM by Lea Carpenter Kirkus Star


by Lea Carpenter

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 2024
ISBN: 9780593536605
Publisher: Knopf

A lonely young London woman is unknowingly drawn into a high-stakes intelligence campaign by the man she marries.

Nearly 21, the never-named woman who narrates the novel is targeted by Marcus, a worldly, jet-setting American who happens to own the private garden she spent hours dreamily gazing at as a child. Innocent to the dangers of the world he inhabits, she is drawn to his controlling nature and sense of mystery even though he's more than 30 years her senior. Eager to be part of something, she goes along with Marcus' efforts to groom her as an asset for a group of operatives with ties to the CIA and Mossad. Posing as an aspiring art dealer, she makes an extended visit to the exclusive Cap Ferret home of Edouard, a former Russian general with a fabulous collection of paintings and a lethal past. She is surprised to enjoy his company during their long nightly walks and becomes exceptionally fond of the sweet, super-intelligent 9-year-old son he dotes on. Knowing he is behind Operation Ilium, a revenge plot aimed at American assets in the U.K., will she be able to do what is necessary to help foil it? "The problem is, when you reinvent yourself for someone else you are reinventing around your idea of what they want, and this will get you into all sorts of trouble," she muses. With its dreamily detached narration and elliptical feel, Carpenter's third novel—following Eleven Days (2013) and Red, White, Blue (2018)—is less interested in spy vs. spy or good vs. bad (both sides are equally capable of the worst) than the lack of reliable truths in people's lives and the ways they allow themselves to be formed by events beyond their control. "Truth is a toy I play with," the narrator says in the end. But no more than it plays with her.

An edgy confessional novel with the trappings of spy fiction.