cover image The Helsinki Affair

The Helsinki Affair

Anna Pitoniak. Simon & Schuster, $27.99 (368 pp) ISBN 978-1-66801-474-5

Pitoniak follows up 2022’s Our American Friend with another ambitious espionage thriller about a female CIA agent forced to deal with crises past and present. Amanda Cole is bored and restless in her position as deputy chief of station in Rome. When her boss bungles a job and causes the poisoning death of a U.S. senator, Cole takes over as station chief and begins investigating the murder and Russia’s role in it. In the process, she finds a disturbing document in the senator’s notes that implicates her father—CIA operative Charlie Cole, who decades ago was mysteriously demoted to the agency’s public relations office from a prestigious Cold War posting in Helsinki—in the killing. The case leads Cole on a winding pursuit that forces her to confront her father’s shortcomings, both personal and professional, while pressure mounts for her to solve the senator’s murder. Though the narrative stumbles in the middle sections—some elements, particularly a subplot on meme stocks, feel forced and overcomplicated—the startling finale saves the day. Pitoniak continues to show strong instincts for the art of cloak-and-dagger. Agents: PJ Mark and Stefanie Lieberman, Janklow & Nesbit. (Nov.)