The New Neighbor
Tighten your seatbelt and prepare for a roller coaster ride while confronting secrets, betrayal, long term friendships in question; all while your life is in shambles, as you battle jealousy and/ or paranoia.
The protagonist, Beth Bradford, is a CIA analyst, who is on the brink of facing an empty nest, a troubled marriage, while moving out of an idyllic cul-de-sac in a beautiful neighborhood where she’s raised her three children. Their daughters, Aubrey and Caitlyn, have finished college. Aubrey is a teacher and recently married, while Caitlyn lives in London, working as a travel reporter. With her husband, Mike, an attorney, her son Tyler was recently dropped off at his college dorm.
Mike drops a bomb on her: he intends on moving out and has no intention of trying to work it out. Beth relates, “The truth is, I don’t want him, I just want the life we used to have.” She returns to work, only to be informed by her boss that she’s being taken off the “The Neighbor Case.” She’s being involuntarily transferred to a teaching position, that removes her access from relevant databases. Beth has been working counterintelligence dedicated to the Iranian Intelligence Force. She has been working more than a decade to thwart the efforts of Quds Force commander Reza Karimi’s efforts to penetrate and gain access to the CIA’s communication system and its top secrets.
She has successfully uncovered many Iranian recruits before irreparable damage was done. But one recruit has eluded her for fifteen years. Referred to as The Neighbor, this access agent has recruited many US intelligence service employees, who prove to be very valuable assets due to their security clearance and possible access to sensitive information. Beth will not accept this set back, and embarks on a rogue investigation of her own. She surveils and even follows her old friends from the neighborhood, all which have some connection to the CIA or other intelligence agencies, in the hope of gathering information leading to the discovery of the identity of The Neighbor. Have some or all been compromised?
She is not above lying to garner the necessary data. She is aware of a recent intercept from Iran: “The Neighbor has found a new cul-de-sac.” She is immediately suspicious of “The New Neighbor” who has moved into her old home. Madeline is not the person she claims to be. A previous kindergarten teacher that is now a stay-at-home mom to three young children. Beth can find no trace of evidence to support her claim of being a teacher. She spies a vase of red roses on a table in the living room, against the front window of her old house. This is a common device of notification by Iranian intelligence agents, since red roses are the national flower of Iran. Beth is not above obtaining info in a reckless manner to further her off the books investigation. Friends and colleagues question her obsessions and consider her behavior erratic and even possibly paranoid.
Karen Cleveland cleverly mines her own experience as a CIA counterintelligence analyst to fashion an immersive and twisted tale with many red herrings and unexpected reveals. The gripping narrative boils over with menace , intrigue, suspense and escalates to a page-turning unexpected denouement. All the while, Beth is haunted by an old intercept … “remind the Neighbor to use the Children.” The risk of jeopardizing her career is worth the potential benefit of saving the security of the country. She vividly recalls how the neighbors became her best friends. She has visions of them sitting in lawn chairs, gossiping, drinking wine, and watching all the children play. Was their friendship ever real? Who can she trust?
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Books for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.
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