I read Need to Know after a string of pretty good but not incredible thrillers — the kind I could tell were well-crafted yet failed to keep me hooked 100% — and I was beginning to wonder if I was suffering from thriller burnout. Need to Know was just the cure I needed. I found myself devouring the book on the subway, on my lunch breaks and late into the night, and it was an incredible page turner.
Vivian Miller, a CIA counterintelligence analyst investigating a potential Russian sleeper cell in the States, makes the horrific discovery that one of the sleeper agents she’s investigating is someone she knows. The greatest achievement of her professional career forces Vivian to confront an impossible ethical dilemma, between her loyalty to her country and her loyalty to the people she loves. Need to Know is told at a breakneck pace, with one twist and revelation after another, and it was such a fun ride.
More than that, however, I loved how the story highlighted an experience that many professionals in high pressure jobs likely face: the tension between their personal life and their professional one. Cleveland does a great job in painting a picture of the duality in Vivian’s life, with both the professional and the personal aspects being equally important. Even though we later learn that investigating Russian operatives wasn’t necessarily Vivian’s dream job, she clearly takes pride in her work and has great talent for it. Equally important is her role as mother and wife, and I love how Cleveland makes it clear how much Vivian loves her family and her life with them, such that putting this part of her life in jeopardy for the sake of her job or even for the sake of her country is no easy decision.
Author Karen Cleveland is herself a former CIA analyst, and maybe that’s part of why she’s so good at creating such a twisty and exciting thriller. While the final twists weren’t much of a surprise to me, it did take me until fairly close to the big reveals to figure them out, and the experience was just a lot of fun. I can imagine this book being turned into an action thriller movie, or some Netflix show with a Jack Bauer 24 vibe. I highly recommend this to fellow thriller lovers.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.