reviewed by Pam Guynn
Alma Katsu switches genres with Red Widow. Instead of horror, fantasy, and the supernatural, she draws on her experience as an intelligence analyst with several U.S. agencies in this engrossing espionage mystery.
Similar to her other books, she manages to reveal human weaknesses and their consequences in a compelling and very readable way.
Lyndsey Duncan has been recalled back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. She’s been sent home on administrative leave after dating a foreign intelligence agent during her assignment in Beirut when a former colleague who is now chief of the Russia Division recruits her for an internal investigation. Three Russians providing information to the United States have been disappeared or died, including one she recruited when she was a handler in the Moscow Field Station. The CIA is convinced there’s a mole, but who is it?
Lyndsey is a likeable character who is lonely, isolated, and questioning her career. However, she is determined to find and expose the traitor. Other major characters include Theresa Warner, Eric Newman, and Raymond Murphy. Theresa is the wife of a former CIA chief killed in the field and has a young son. She and Lyndsey become friends during the course of the story. Eric is the one that brings Lyndsey in to work on the investigation. He has a tendency to be controlling, but supportive. Raymond Murphy is from the Counterintelligence division of the CIA and the person working with Lyndsey to find the mole.
While I have seen this novel categorized as an espionage thriller, it more closely resembles a police procedural. This is a story about the investigation and the people involved. It isn’t full of action, although there are a few action scenes. The suspense is built as the investigation evolves and discoveries are made.
Katsu includes some plot twists that may catch some by surprise. Information on the CIA and part of its structure is weaved into the story. The story largely takes place within the walls of the CIA headquarters building. One of the revelations that struck me was how similar office employees are, whether they work for the CIA or a corporation. There are meetings, collaborations, computer work, paper work, secrets, projects, reports, office politics, competition, and gossip. The writing flowed well and was descriptive, but sometimes repeated details became telling rather than showing, which caused the pace to slow. Themes include violence, murder, loyalty, betrayal, lies, friendship, ambition, deceit, morality, national security, and much more.
Overall, this was suspenseful and intriguing with compelling characters that kept me turning the pages. With a fascinating story, it kept me fully engaged in learning who the traitor was. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date was March 23, 2021.
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