How well do you know the people you love?
That’s the question that’s at the heart of Need to Know, the debut novel of Karen Cleveland.
When we first Vivian Miller, the main character and narrator of Need to Know, she has a life that, on the surface, many would envy. She has four children, a nice house in the suburbs of D.C., and a handsome and charming husband named Matt. Of course, there are problems. Money’s tight. One of her children has a heart defect, one that will undoubtedly require surgery in the future. Honestly, Vivian would be happy to stay home and spend all of her time taking care of the children but, as Matt always reminds her, they need the money that her job brings in.
Vivian works for the CIA. She’s an analyst and, as glamorous as working in intelligence might sound, her job basically involves spending a lot of time in the office, searching through the computers of suspected Russian agents. For instance, there’s the mysterious Yury. When Vivian searches through Yury’s files, she comes across a folder that is labeled “Friends.” Inside the folder are five pictures of five people who might or might not be working for the Russians.
Four of the pictures are of total strangers.
The fifth picture is of Matt.
If nothing else, Need to Know is a book that will keep you guessing. Is Matt a Russian agent or was his picture placed in the folder just to compromise Vivian’s position with the CIA? Has Matt spent ten years being a perfect and supportive husband or was he actually a passive aggressive manipulator? What do the Russians want and how far are they willing to go to get it? And, even more importantly, how far is Vivian willing to go to protect her children?
Need to Know is a strong debut novel, a perfectly paced thriller that will take consistently take you by surprise. Karen Cleveland is a former CIA analyst herself and she puts that background to good use in Need to Know, supplying a lot of interesting details that you wouldn’t get from a book written by … well, by someone like me, whose national security expertise is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen in the movies.
(Speaking of movies, apparently Charlize Theron will be producing and starring in the film version of Need to Know. Personally, the entire time I was reading the novel, I pictured Naomi Watts as Vivian, Jeremy Renner as Matt, and Richard Jenkins as Vivian’s boss, Peter.)
I did have a few issues with the final few chapters of the book. Though it didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the novel, I would have liked a stronger ending. That said, the ending does potentially leave room for a sequel and I will definitely be reading the next book that Karen Cleveland writes!
If you’re in the mood for a good and intelligent spy thriller, Need to Know is definitely one to check out.