cover image Who Is Vera Kelly?

Who Is Vera Kelly?

Rosalie Knecht. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (274p) ISBN 978-1-947793-01-9

Knecht’s solid second novel (following The Relief Map) opens in 1966, when 25-year-old Vera Kelly is sent to Buenos Aires by the CIA to infiltrate a rumored KGB cell, gladly leaving behind her life in New York. Ever since a falling-out with her abusive mother as a teenager, Vera’s life consists of her work at a radio station and her occasional discreet trips to underground lesbian bars in Greenwich Village. But in Buenos Aires, Vera learns to lead a spy’s double life. Vera’s observations of the politically charged city are straightforward and sharp: “Bars where students liked to go were nearly empty. Plainclothes police lounged conspicuously in the windows.” As Vera consorts undercover with the radical students assumed to be in touch with the Soviets, a military coup and a personal betrayal threaten her work, leaving her with the new task of trying to make it out of Argentina alive. While Vera is a charming narrator, especially among the ranks of spy thriller leads, her work among the radicals is never as gripping as it should be, nor are the flashbacks following her trajectory from reckless teenager to CIA operative. Still, with some suspension of disbelief, this is a promising subversion of the classic espionage novel, one which would lend itself well to a sequel or series to come. (June)