Need to Know
by Karen Cleveland
When Vivian Miller woke up that morning, the sun dawned a day just like the ones before it. As always, she woke up from her slumber immediately wracked by the perpetual mom-guilt that clung to her like humidity in a Southern bayou. Per usual, the car had trouble starting; its ringing normalcy held a sadness that comes with the act of accepting bad luck, and only aided the path her thoughts were already sauntering into – the lands of financial hardships. With a family of six, things were always hard if you didn’t have independent wealth, and that was something Vivian couldn’t ever see them having. Even with both she and Matt working decent jobs, living in the nice part of the city came with it’s own set of problems. There was a certain cost that came with being in one of the best school districts around, and that combined with the bills stacking up for the health of one of her twin boys, Vivian leaned heavily on only one thing – taking one day at at time.
Trudging into the office after watching her children jet off to school with Matt, she sat down at her desk at the Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters in Virginia. As an agent working for one of the most well-known government agencies in the world, one would assume Vivian would be full of the bravado and arrogance befitting a job of such importance. Instead, the truth was that there were certain internal walls in place that wouldn’t allow her to fully embrace her position as a counterintelligence analyst at the CIA – the biggest being that she wished she could be at home with her children. She was missing them grow. Missing first steps, first words. Missing class parties and Career Days. But every time she’d tried to put her family first, to bring up selling the house in the pricey part of town and taking a step back from work, Matt pushed her back into being a career-driven woman. It was never the right time for her to leave her work, he insisted. And now with her new technology in place, she was on the way towards a much-needed promotion.
There was something different about this morning, regardless of how mundane it had felt when she’d first woken up and gotten the day started. Vivian was getting closer to something, she could feel it in her bones. She and her team at the CIA – a group focused on tracking down Russian sleeper cells located in the United States – were inching closer towards a possible handler, a man named Yury. Today Vivian knew she would finally have access to his laptop and be able to begin the painstaking process of thoroughly combing through it in an attempt to find evidence against him or something that will lead her team to the spies he’s in charge of.
But she’s distracted after the phone call from Matt. Their little girl is sick – again – and he can’t go pick her up, not today. Matt has to get one of their twins to a therapy session, and he needs Vivian to leave work to gather their daughter from school in less than an hour or else they’ll be in violation of the school’s rules – again. They can’t afford another strike against them, no matter the reason. Vivian thinks she can spend a few moments sifting through files on Yury’s computer before she has to take off, but her mind remains elsewhere. If she didn’t have to work, if she could be at home with her children like she wanted, they wouldn’t have problems like this. Her little girl would be at home and not school with a rising fever. Maybe her infant son would be meeting those milestones, if only she could be at home to give him the proper one-on-one attention he deserves.
Vivian’s mind lingers on her family as her mouse hovers over a folder named “Friends” on Yury’s computer. Curious, she clicks on the folder to view its contents. With her heart suddenly beating for a reason other than anger at Matt or disappointment in herself, she begins to study what is in front of her.
After months and months of leads that drew nothing but dead-ends, Vivian wonders if she may finally be onto something. The CIA knows that the Russian sleeper cells work in groups of five. Five ringleaders that have five handlers each, and those handlers have five agents each. This “Friends” folder holds five photos, and as she begins to click through them, Vivian wonders if she is looking into the faces of a bonafide Russian sleeper cell.
With another click, her heart drops. What she’s seeing couldn’t possibly be real, could it?
Because Vivian is staring at a photo of Matt. Her own husband.
In the upcoming days and weeks, Vivian will find herself in impossible situations and doing things she never dreamed she’d be considering. Desperate to hang onto her family, she will go down unspeakable paths and lie to faces that she trusts. In the back of her mind she will carry a new kind of worry; has everything between she and Matt – over a decade of memories, marriage, children, and intimacy – been a complete lie?
She must make the ultimate choice – loyalty to family, or loyalty to country?
Need to Know, the debut novel by former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland, is creating a serious buzz in the bookish world. With film rights pre-empted by Universal Studios (and Charlize Theron tied to the project) before the book was even available to the general public, Cleveland is set to take the thriller genre by storm. Armed with a fast-paced story and characters that are not only relatable but heartbreakingly honest, the author spins a story of betrayal that is not only bone-chilling in it’s delivery, but also completely realistic in nature.
I was a bit hesitant to begin this book because I tend to be turned off by novels involving politics, governmental agencies, and/or computer technology. It’s just not my thing and I get easily confused by those themes in literature; I’d rather pick up a fantasy book instead. I downloaded an ARC of this book because the marketing was so heavy and I was curious. I’m very passionate about helping authors as they work to get their words out there for the masses to read and enjoy, and I’m always curious about a debut novel. I am so glad I gave this book a chance – seriously, I could barely put it down. This book dominated my life for a solid 24 hours. Karen Cleveland produces a story that is easy to navigate for anyone, including someone like me who has no idea how computer programs work or the inner-dealings of spy networks and the agency set upon uncovering them.
I was especially drawn to Vivian’s character and I knew her voice so well. She felt lost and defeated in her present life, her yearning for acceptance and love from her children was palpable. Vivian’s strong and unwavering sense of motherhood was at times something that caused me to overwhelmed by emotion. The manipulations Vivian endured were not only cruel, but they were honest and raw. She had a visceral reaction to going back to work after her children were born, only to be pressured back into her career at the CIA by her husband – the undercover spy. Those scenes in particular were not only heart-wrenching in their degree but also so cleverly woven into the overall story that it left me in awe of the author.The picture Cleveland drew of the relationship between Matt and Vivian throughout the flashbacks of their life together was genius; it all looped back together in a masterful series of clues and innuendos.Cleveland hooked me from the first chapter and kept me enthralled through to the final page.
THERE MUST BE A SEQUEL. I won’t spoil you more, but I will seriously raise hell if there is not a sequel. Too many questions!
Need to Know gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. Buy it. Read it. Love it.