Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading


Upcoming: PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean (Jo Fletcher Books/Ace)

McLean-PriestOfBonesUKIn October, Jo Fletcher Books (UK) and Ace Books (US) are due to publish the new novel by Peter McLeanPriest of Bones. The first novel in the author’s new series, The War of the Rose Throne, I think it sounds great. This has been variously described as a must for fans of Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. I think, given the synopsis, I think I’d add Daniel Polansky to that list (his Low Town series looks to me to be in the similar sub-genre of fantasy crime/noir). Here’s the synopsis:

‘Sixty-five thousand battle-shocked, trained killers came home to no jobs, no food and the plague. What did Her Majesty think was going to happen?’

Tomas Piety takes his duties seriously: as a soldier, as a priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows and as a leader of men. He has come home from the war to reclaim his family business, to provide for his men and to ensure the horrors of Abingon can never happen in Ellinburg.

But things have changed: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg — his people — have run out of food and hope and places to hide. With his best friend Bloody Anne, his war-damaged brother Jochan and his new gang, the Pious Men, Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his.

And as Tomas is dragged into a web of political intrigue by the sinister Queen’s Men, forced to work against the foreign infiltrators lurking in the backstreet taverns, brothels and gambling dens of the Stink, one thing becomes clear.

The war has just begun.

I think this sounds great. Really looking forward to reading it. McLean’s first series, The Burned Man, is published by Angry Robot Books.

Also on CR: Interview with Peter McLean (2015)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: MISSING PERSON by Sarah Lotz (Mulholland/Hodder)

LotsS-MissingPersonUSA new novel by Sarah Lotz! Unfortunately, it’s still pretty far away: Missing Person is due out in April 2019… Nevertheless, I spotted it in the Mulholland Books catalogue, and decided to feature it on the site. It is also due out in the UK, to be published by Hodder in March 2019.

Reclusive Irish bookseller Shaun Ryan has always believed that his older brother, Teddy, died in a car accident. It’s only on his mother’s deathbed that he learns the truth: Teddy, who was gay, fled the Catholic, deeply conservative County Wicklow for New York decades earlier. Shaun finds no sign of him in New York or anywhere else–until he comes across the unsolved murder of a John Doe whose description matches Teddy’s.

Desperate for information, Shaun tracks down Chris Guzman, a woman who runs a website dedicated to matching missing persons cases with unidentified bodies. Through Chris’s site, a group of online cold case fanatics connect Teddy with the notorious “Boy in the Dress” murder, believed to be one of many committed by a serial killer targeting gay men.

But who are these cold case fanatics, and how do they know so much about a case that left the police and the FBI stumped? With investigators, amateurs, and one sadistic killer on a collision course, Missing Person is Sarah Lotz at her most thrilling and terrifying.

Sarah Lotz is the author of a number of superb novels, including The Three (on sale in the UK at the time of writing), Day Four and The White Road. Lotz’s novels are published in the UK by Hodder.

Also on CR: Interview with Sarah Lotz (2014); Reviews of The Three and Day Four

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads


Upcoming: THE RISE OF ANDREW JACKSON by David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler (Basic Books)

Heidler-RiseOfAndrewJacksonUSIn October, Basic Books are due to publish the new book by David S. and Jeanne T. HeidlerThe Rise of Andrew Jackson. I have mixed feelings about Andrew Jackson — he was a towering, important figure during one of my favourite periods of American history, whose election helped to fundamentally alter the way presidential elections are conducted.

Generally, though, I have found it to be the case that if you’ve read one book about Jackson, you’ve read them all. Many of his papers were lost in a fire at the Hermitage, and he was by no means as prolific as many of his peers and other presidents. I am not Jackson’s biggest fan. However, the Heidlers’ new book caught my attention because of its focus on the propagandists and journalists who helped Jackson polish his image, to scrub his decidedly unattractive personal history and general manner.

The story of Andrew Jackson’s improbable ascent to the White House, centered on the handlers and propagandists who made it possible

Andrew Jackson was volatile and prone to violence, and well into his forties his sole claim on the public’s affections derived from his victory in a thirty-minute battle at New Orleans in early 1815. Yet those in his immediate circle believed he was a great man who should be president of the United States.

Jackson’s election in 1828 is usually viewed as a result of the expansion of democracy. Historians David and Jeanne Heidler argue that he actually owed his victory to his closest supporters, who wrote hagiographies of him, founded newspapers to savage his enemies, and built a political network that was always on message. In transforming a difficult man into a paragon of republican virtue, the Jacksonites exploded the old order and created a mode of electioneering that has been mimicked ever since.

I’m really looking forward to reading The Rise of Andrew Jackson. The book is published by Basic Books in late October 2018, and will be available in the UK. The Heidlers are also the authors of Henry Clay: The Essential American, among others.

Follow the Authors: Website


Upcoming: RED WAR by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler)

MillsFlynn-MR17-RedWarUSToday, Kyle Mills unveiled the cover to his next novel, Red War. The seventeenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series, originally created by Vince Flynn, it continues the story Mills began in The Survivor (the novel he finished following Flynn’s death), and continued in Order to Kill and Enemy of the State. Here’s the synopsis:

Mitch Rapp races to prevent Russia’s gravely ill leader from starting a full-scale war with NATO.

When Russian president Maxim Krupin discovers that he has inoperable brain cancer, he’s determined to cling to power. His first task is to kill or imprison any of his countrymen who can threaten him. Soon, though, his illness becomes serious enough to require a more dramatic diversion — war with the West.

Upon learning of Krupin’s condition, CIA director Irene Kennedy understands that the US is facing an opponent who has nothing to lose. The only way to avoid a confrontation that could leave millions dead is to send Mitch Rapp to Russia under impossibly dangerous orders. With the Kremlin’s entire security apparatus hunting him, he must find and kill a man many have deemed the most powerful in the world.

Success means averting a war that could consume all of Europe. But if his mission is discovered, Rapp will plunge Russia and America into a conflict that neither will survive.

The Mitch Rapp series is easily one of my favourite thriller series, so if you have any interest in action-packed espionage novels, then I would highly recommend it. Red War is due to be published in October 2018 by Atria/Emily Bestler in North America, and Simon & Schuster in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter


Upcoming: THESE TRUTHS by Jill Lepore (W.W. Norton)

LeporeJ-TheseTruthsUSHCJill Lepore is one of my favourite historians. Ever since discovering her work in the New Yorker, I have eagerly read anything of hers I could get my hands on (not always easy, when I lived in the UK). The Story of America (Princeton University Press) is one of my favourite non-fiction books, and a must for anyone interested in reading about the evolution of storytelling in, and the story of the United States. Lepore is also the author of the excellent The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Joe Gould’s Teeth and New York Burning (among others).

This year, W. W. Norton is due to publish Lepore’s latest book: a substantial, single-volume history of the United States. Here’s the synopsis for These Truths:

In the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation.

The American experiment rests on three ideas — “these truths,” Jefferson called them — political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. And it rests, too, “on a dedication to inquiry, fearless and unflinching,” writes Jill Lepore in a groundbreaking investigation into the American past that places truth itself at the center of the nation’s history. In riveting prose, These Truthstells the story of America, beginning in 1492, to ask whether the course of events has proven the nation’s founding truths, or belied them. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, sovereignty in a land of conquest, will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, finding meaning in those very contradictions as she weaves American history into a majestic tapestry of faith and hope, of peril and prosperity, of technological progress and moral anguish. A spellbinding chronicle filled with arresting sketches of Americans from John Winthrop and Frederick Douglass to Pauli Murray and Phyllis Schlafly, These Truths offers an authoritative new history of a great, and greatly troubled, nation.

I’m really looking forward to reading this. These Truths is published by W. W. Norton in September 2018 (in North America and the UK).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads


Upcoming: TRINITY by Louisa Hall (Ecco)

HallL-TrinityUSLater this year, Ecco is due to publish the new novel by Louisa Hall. Hall’s previous novel, Speak, was a very well written, really interesting novel about AI and what it means to be human — it was published by Ecco in North America, and Orbit in the UK. In Trinity, the author takes on the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the nuclear bomb. Here’s the synopsis:

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist, a champion of liberal causes, and a complex and often contradictory character. He loyally protected his Communist friends, only to later betray them under questioning. He repeatedly lied about love affairs. And he defended the use of the atomic bomb he helped create, before ultimately lobbying against nuclear proliferation.

Through narratives that cross time and space, a set of characters bears witness to the life of Oppenheimer, from a secret service agent who tailed him in San Francisco, to the young lover of a colleague in Los Alamos, to a woman fleeing McCarthyism who knew him on St. John. As these men and women fall into the orbit of a brilliant but mercurial mind at work, all consider his complicated legacy while also uncovering deep and often unsettling truths about their own lives.

In this stunning, elliptical novel, Louisa Hall has crafted a breathtaking and explosive story about the ability of the human mind to believe what it wants, about public and private tragedy, and about power and guilt. Blending science with literature and fiction with biography, Trinity asks searing questions about what it means to truly know someone, and about the secrets we keep from the world and from ourselves.

Trinity is due to be published by Ecco in North America, on October 30th, 2018. I couldn’t find a UK listing for the novel. Hall’s debut, The Carriage House is also available via Scribner (North America) and Penguin (UK).

Also on CR: Review of Speak

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads