Need To Know by Karen Cleveland is spy novel about a CIA analyst caught between loyalty to family or country, when she discovers that her own husband is a long-time Russian sleeper agent. Vivian Miller , the CIA analyst, has created a sophisticated software program, theoretically allowing her to hack into the computers of suspected Russian control agents. If the program works, the CIA will be able to see what spies Russia has working in America.
No one at the CIA really expects the computer program to work. Vivian has been tinkering with it for months with no success. Then one day during testing, Vivian is able to hack into the computer of a top level Russian spymaster. This will be the crowning moment of her career and assure her a promotion.
Vivian finds a file on the spy master’s computer, with photographs of all the agents he is controlling in America. She is ecstatic until she sees that one of the photos is of her own husband Matt. They have been married for years and have 3 children. He can’t possibly be a spy for the Russians. But the more she tries to convince herself that Matt is not a spy the more she realizes he is.
The correct course of action would be for Vivian to immediately notify her superiors. However, she knows that the second she does that, her life as she knows it will be over. Matt will go to jail, possible for life. Vivian will be suspected of being a traitor herself. Even if she is not arrested her career as a trusted CIA agent will be ruined. What will happen to her kids?
In a moment of panic, Vivian deletes Matt’s picture fro the Russian spymaster’s computer. In that one second she realizes that she moved from a woman with a dilemma, to an actual traitor to the United States.
The plot of Need To Know then follows the complex story of what to do next. Vivian realizes that she has dug herself a hole that may lead her to prison for life. Can she save herself, her family and still be loyal to America? As a computer analyst herself, she understands that it is only a matter of time until both the Russians and the Americans will zero in on her tampering.
Karen Cleveland is an excellent writer and Need To Know is her first novel. Karen Cleveland herself is a former CIA analyst (whose husband is not a Russian spy). She has a Masters degrees from Trinity College in Dublin in international peace studies, and a degree in public policy from Harvard University.
Like John Le Carrie, Karen Cleveland zeros in on the emotional and personal aspects of spying, rather than political implications. Need To Know is a fast moving novel with an unexpected ending. We look forward to reading Karen Cleveland’s next book.