Being a traditional 1950s wife and mother turns out to be perfect training for spycraft.

A WOMAN OF INTELLIGENCE

A well-off young mother is recruited as an undercover agent by the FBI in this historical thriller.

Post–World War II New York is a great place to be young and single, if you’re Katharina West. The multilingual Columbia graduate lands a dream job as a translator at the U.N. and spends nights and weekends with her girl squad downing cocktails and entertaining suitors. For Rina, that ends when she marries Tom Edgeworth, an impossibly handsome, charming, rich pediatric surgeon. A few years later, Rina is ensconced in a swell Fifth Avenue apartment, she’s the mother of two little boys, and she’s miserable. The babies overwhelm her, and Tom has become a workaholic bully who expects her to have no life beyond her family. She’s drinking a lot. One day after she has a public meltdown, she’s approached by Lee Coldwell, an FBI agent with an interesting proposition. Jacob Gornev, an old college beau of hers, is a communist and Soviet agent. Would she like to help the FBI investigate him? To Rina, this sounds like even more fun than her U.N. job, and in the midst of the 1950s Red Scare, she feels she’d be doing her patriotic duty—so what if it involves lying to her husband? Seeing Jacob again stirs up old feelings, but she’s even more stirred by Turner Wells, an undercover FBI agent who, he tells Rina, is “only the tenth Negro they ever let play the game.” The game, though, will turn deadly, as such games do. Tanabe crafts the historical setting convincingly, and, although the dialogue can sometimes veer toward mini lectures, the novel moves at a brisk pace even as she weaves together the stories of Rina’s domestic dilemmas and her adventures as an undercover agent. Perhaps the most subversive thing about the twinned stories is this: how well the masks and performances Rina puts on as wife and mother prepare her for the world of espionage.

Being a traditional 1950s wife and mother turns out to be perfect training for spycraft.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2502-3150-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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