Winner of the 2021 Edgar Award – G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards
An NPR Best Book of the Year
"Gripping, subtle, magnificently written." —The New York Times Book Review
"A delectable page-turner . . . Vera Kelly introduces a fascinating new spy to literature’s mystery canon—one we hope sticks around long beyond this snappy, intimate debut." —Entertainment Weekly
New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She's working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA.
Next thing she knows she's in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. As Vera becomes more and more enmeshed with the young radicals, the fragile local government begins to split at the seams. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of a coup, Vera learns the Cold War makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she's forced to take extreme measures to save herself.
An exhilarating page-turner and perceptive coming-of-age story, Who Is Vera Kelly? introduces an original, wry, and whip-smart female spy for the twenty-first century.
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.
Though Rosalie Knecht’s book contains moments of great cleverness and rousing suspense, Vera Kelly falls flat as a character and exposition is crammed down the reader’s throat like castor oil. Mediocre at best and ultimately forgettable, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.