Source: Borrowed from Pasco County Libraries
Publication Date: March 23, 2021
Purchase Link: Amazon
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Why did I choose to read this book?
I chose to read this book because I was blown away by The Fervor. The writing, the storytelling, the ending, the entire book had me from start to finish so I decided to seek out more of Alma Katsu’s writing. I came across Red London (Red Widow #2) on NetGalley and requested it (review forthcoming!) but since it was the second book in this series I had to go get Red Widow at the library.
What is this book about?
Red Widow centers on life as a CIA agent, specifically female CIA agents, who have to balance their personal needs with the demands of the job. Lyndsey is known as the human lie detector, and when she’s sent home from Lebanon because of an inappropriate relationship with an MI6 agent, she’s called in to find a mole that has caused three Russian informants to be killed. One of these informants used to be Lyndsey’s responsibility, so leading this search is both a way to reestablish herself professionally and discover how a man she had worked with so long and had come to view as a father figure was murdered.
What is notable about this story?
Watching intelligent women outsmart men in a field that is dominated by men who just failed up to be there is so satisfying. What was even more satisfying was when the intelligent men in charge actually listened to the women and backed them up. There were many moments of sexism but they felt like they should, like they were a part of the workplace (because that’s just how it is, gosh it would be nice if it wasn’t), so the moments when Lyndsey really needed a male supervisor or colleague to help or give her information I found myself holding my breath to see if she would actually be treated well. This underlying “who do I trust” is something you would expect from a spy novel, but I like that Katsu shows us that the same paranoia happens in every day interactions because that’s just how society works (unfortunately).
A question that I ponder a lot is what justice is. What does it look like? Part of my definition of it that I’ve formed throughout the years is that justice should be served for people who have a choice and choose to break the law/cause harm/etc. There is a character in this story (trying to be non-spoilery!) who does have a choice initially, but even that choice was forced on her by others. She was manipulated psychologically into choosing her path. Now our system would usually punish her deeds, her actions, but I was relieved when Katsu not only wrote the realistic “a judge is going to consider what you did” part but also showed the mercy we would see as justice by writing in understanding why she made those choices. The person who did the manipulating should be punished for their role. When I finished the book, I felt like justice has been served, that the characters all got what they deserved, and that’s not a feeling I get to have very often after reading books like this.
Was anything not so great?
I read mystery/thriller/horror books, but I think this was my first straight up spy novel. So this comment is more about my preferences, and not about Katsu’s writing or pacing, but I felt like it was very dry. Even in the moments when they had to move quickly to catch people or save people, I didn’t feel the same urgency I would feel in a mystery/thriller type story. But again, I think that’s because this is a spy novel and not those other things. I enjoyed the story, I finished it. I’m going to read the next one. I think I just need to wrap my mind around what a spy novel is and learn how to read one since I don’t think I have before.
So if YOU have never read a spy novel before, definitely check out Alma Katsu’s writing. Their books will be a good introduction because they are a great storyteller.
What’s the verdict?
Three stars on Goodreads but not for anything wrong with the writing or the story. When I moused over 3 stars it said “I Liked It” – and i did! I’m hopeful that when I tear into my advanced copy of Red London (book 2 of this series, out March 14th!) I’ll have a better time because my expectations will be set differently.
Unrelated, but you should also check out her other novels too, especially the horror ones. The Fervor earned 5 stars on Goodreads from me and still haunts my nightmares once in awhile, and it’s about spy balloons! Ripped from the headlines. 🙂
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