Saturday, March 27, 2021

"Red Widow"

Author Alma Katsu writes:
Lyndsey Duncan is a case officer at CIA tasked with finding the mole who is handing over the Agency’s best assets to Russia. Theresa Warner is the Red Widow, wife of a CIA officer who died during an operation inside Russia. Both were once rising stars at Langley but separate events have thrown their careers and their lives for a loop. And now, the two officers become entwined over the mole hunt, ultimately causing both women to question what it means to work at CIA, what you owe to your country, and what you owe to yourself.

In some ways, Red Widow is a little unconventional for a spy novel. It’s meant to appeal to viewers of shows like The Americans and Homeland more so than maybe James Bond and Jason Bourne.
Katsu is best known for her award-winning historical horror and fantasy novels, but retirement from a 30+ career in intelligence has freed her up to write what she knows best: spy novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Red Widow and reported the following:
Page 69 opens on a video teleconference between Langley and Moscow station, where Eric Newman, chief of Russia Division, is giving Hank Bremer, Moscow station chief, bad news. Lyndsey Duncan, who is in charge of the hunt for the mole, sits in:
Popov and Kulakov killed, Nesterov missing. The grim truth settles over the four of them. The evidence seems undeniable: Moscow is rolling up CIA’s assets.

Eric clears his throat. The corners of his mouth twitch. What he’s about to say next pains him. “Hank, I want you to stand down all operations for the time being.” It’s the same advice Lyndsey gave him, only now he’s ready to act on it.

Bremer’s face goes red, like his shirt collar has suddenly gone too tight. “You can’t do that. We have things in the works—”

“It doesn’t matter, Hank. You know that. Shut it down, all of it. Tell your people”—the assets, Eric means, their Russian spies—“to lie low until we get things under control. We can’t afford to lose anyone else right now.”

Bremer is clearly upset but he knows not to say anything more. Instead, he strikes the table with a closed fist.

“I know you don’t like it, Hank, but we have to think of our people.” Eric’s tone is more conciliatory but it’s too late. Station Chiefs don’t like to have their authority questioned in front of subordinates. He should’ve helped Hank come to this conclusion himself. “We’ll figure out what’s going on and stop it.”
Page 69 thrusts you into what it’s like on the job—there are many, many meetings to make sure nothing is being overlooked, because the spy business is complex and fraught with peril, obviously—but only a taste of what the whole book is about, I’m afraid. It’s very work-oriented and crackles with the difficulties of managing and juggling work relationships, but you don’t get to see the interaction between the protagonist, Lyndsey Duncan, and the titular character, Theresa Warner.
Visit Alma Katsu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue