Of the new novel, Need to Know (Ballantine), thriller writer Lee Child said, “If you read chapter one, you’ll read chapter two. If you read chapter two, you’ll miss dinner, stay up far too late, and feel tired at work tomorrow.”
As usual, Mr. Child nails it.
And in this, her first novel, so does Karen Cleveland. Her writing is tack-sharp, her story is at least as addictive as today’s hottest street drug (maybe more), and her characters vacillate between charming reliability and “WTF did she (and he) just do!”
What’s this must-read about? Vivian and Matt are the perfect DC-area couple. She’s a CIA analyst. He’s not a stay-at-home dad, but close. He takes care of their two cute-as-buttons kids, navigates the realities of their complicated life in which his wife deals with potentially deadly state secrets, and is generally an amazing guy that any woman would kill to be married to. He’s a grade-A multitasker, juggling dinner, sometimes ornery kids, and a wife whose job is overly demanding even on a normal day.
But what if Matt isn’t quite the man he says he is? What if he never was? What if he’s a lie?
At the risk of spoiling something, let’s just say that those three what ifs are the spine of this book. To say any more would kill the fun, and since Karen Cleveland was a CIA analyst in real life, I have no interest in being on her bad side.
Need to Know asks the kinds of questions that are answerable only if someone puts a gun to your head—and in this book, guns are put to heads all the time. When the chips are down, where does one’s loyalty lie? What would you choose: your family or your country? What laws would you break to protect your family? How far would you go to protect your spouse? Would you put your career on the line? Would you kill? Would you be able forgive and forget…or at least forgive?
This book is about how Vivian faces down the choices she must make. But it’s also about Matt and the choices he’s already faced, and a few new ones he’s spent his life dreading he’d have to. Both are model parents. They adore their kids, their marriage, and each other. So when the deception is revealed—of course there’s a deception; it’s a thriller, after all—and when the double-crosses start to pile up, what are they to do? How are they going to get themselves out of this mess unscathed? Both are innocent, sort of. Both are guilty, sort of. Both are in a lot of hot water.
And once you start reading, as Mr. Child said, you will be too.
You can feel the thumbscrews tightening every time you turn a page. ◊