Tierney reviews Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht cover

Who Is Vera Kelly? is a thoughtful, twisty spy thriller, whose eponymous protagonist is a queer American spy in 1960s Argentina. Vera’s life unfolds in fragments through the novel: passages in her present day, in which she is working for the CIA to monitor the unstable Argentinian government and suppress communist interests, are interspersed with passages recounting her troubled adolescence, young adulthood, and path to the CIA – as well as the path she takes coming in to her lesbian identity.

The novel is a spy thriller, but one with a little more languor: the focus is more on the psychological – oppressive feelings, the sense of things closing in, Vera getting inside her own head – than on heroic exploits, dastardly villains, and implausible twists of fate – like a queering of the genre itself. We follow Vera, in all her complexity, as she poses as a university student and tries to enter the inner circle of a student identified as some sort of communist operative – which includes befriending his mysterious girlfriend, Victoria, who seems to be flirting with her…

Who Is Vera Kelly? puts us right inside Vera’s head, and peels the layers back one by one: via the intermingled flashbacks, we journey through her life, starting with the death of her father and her difficult relationship with her abusive mother, moving forward right up to her present day, uncovering what she has been through and what makes her tick, as she herself tries to uncover this communist plot while the Argentinian government crumbles after a coup and she is left stranded there.

It took me a little while to get sucked in to the novel, but I once I was in, I was hooked. The novel fills you with an all-consuming desire to know what happens, both in Vera’s past and in her present… Who is on what side, and who can she trust? What is Vera’s life story? How can she escape Argentina after the coup? And, crucially, was Victoria actually flirting with her? You’ll have to read to find out.

Audrey reviews Adieu, Warm Sunshine by C.E. Case

adieu warm sunshine

Sunny’s a spy who works undercover as a cop. It’s complicated. Pamela’s a dancer on Broadway. She’s not the star, and despite having a certain something, she’ll never be the biggest draw, because she can’t sing. But she’s arresting. Sunny can’t say why she shows up behind a theater on Broadway after a (lousy) show that night, but she leaves with Pamela in her car.

Instead of a one-night stand, Pamela and Sunny find they want more, that being together is both exhilarating and a balm to the soul. But they have secrets. Pamela doesn’t understand the implications of her secrets, and that spells trouble. Sunny knows the ramifications of her own shadowy past and shady present. These don’t make for a bright future, interpersonally, despite having a supportive work partner, Vash. But the thought surfaces, for both women, briefly–maybe this could work?

Then Pamela disappears. Sunny must use all her skills and all her connections, legitimate and under-the-radar, to find her lover. In the process, Sunny and Vash stumble onto a tangled conspiracy that could spell doom for Sunny and Pamela both.

The plot is fairly straightforward, though the mechanics of the organizations are a bit nebulous. It would be a good deal of fun to read a book just on Sunny’s training. But Adieu, Warm Sunshine is an entertaining read. It’s a little choppy and starts some threads that get dropped, narratively, although they’re tied up later. Writer design choices that don’t work as well as they could. But overall it’s a fun read. Case’s metier is in her sex scenes, where she exhibits a flair for choosing just the right detail to characterize the budding relationship between her protagonists. She works well on a smaller stage here. Though the overall plot can be explained in a linear paragraph, the book’s most successful parts are the interactions between Sunny and Vash, Sunny and Pamela, and Pamela and her roommate.