Review: Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

The central plot idea for this book is terrific.

I won’t be giving much away as this appears in the first few pages. A CIA analyst specialising in tracking down Russian sleeper agents in the US stumbles upon a file with photos of some of these. One of them turns out to be her husband. When she confronts him with the question ‘how long have you been spying for Russia?’ instead of denying it, he immediately replies, ’22 years.’

But after this brilliant opening, most of the novel revolves around the heroine struggling to figure out what to do, reminiscing about her relationship with her husband and looking back at decades of deceit and manipulation by him. It is abundantly clear that the husband has been using his wife on behalf of the Russian intelligence services from day one, and yet she is convinced that deep down he really, really loves her and their children. To call this implausible would be an understatement.

For much of the book, not much actually happens. When it finally does, some reviewers have expressed real surprise at the ‘shocking twist’. But if you’ve ever read a thriller, you can see this one coming from a mile away. Need to Know could have been a much better book — it had real promise.