Review of “Need to Know” by Karen Cleveland


I enjoyed Karen Cleveland’s “Need to Know” very much.  It was one of the few espionage books that I have read that were written by a female author, and I found that to be very refreshing. The book is a hybrid between an espionage thriller and a domestic thriller, and I admire the author’s ability to succeed in this particular innovative niche.  The book is well-written and maintains the tension throughout. I have a feeling this will turn into a movie of some sort, and I will be anxious to see it.

The protagonist, Vivian, is a female CIA analyst who is working in counterintelligence focusing on Russia. She develops an algorithm to identify Russian sleeper agents and makes a discovery that threatens her family.

After Vivian’s children are threatened, she makes some very bad decisions that were inconsistent with her supposed intelligence as a CIA analyst. The reader must accept that the threat to Vivian’s children drives her to make these very foolish decisions. On one hand, I like a protagonist with normal human flaws, and Vivian certainly has a lot of these. She is no stereotypical superhero with unlimited capabilities. She is very human. There may just be too many flaws for some readers to accept, however.

The plot has a number of twists, that I found to be clever, but some readers may not agree. I found some of the these twists a little hard to accept. Vivian is very naïve (especially for someone supposed to be a CIA analyst). This is sometimes  difficult to swallow.  I also felt that some of the investigative procedures described toward the end of the book were not realistic. These are small flaws. This is the author’s debut novel, and she did a great job with it.

I obtained this book from my local library. I saw it in the new book display, and I jumped at the opportunity to borrow a 2018 book in an area in which I focus my reading. It was a great find, and I will be watching for Karen Cleveland in future novels or on a movie screen. I have a feeling we will be hearing more from her in the near future.


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