American Spy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The opening of this book had me hooked and I loved the writing style. However, this book wasn't you standard thriller. Yes, it about the cold war and spies but not your standard fare. 

It covered a piece of history that I was totally ignorant to and was glad to be informed about.- The assassination of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary Leader of Burkina Faso. While fictionalised, my own basic investigations makes me feel that is was well researched.

I would definitely read more from this author and based on the ending hope we get to read more of Marie Mitchell adventures in future novels
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Marie Mitchell is a spy and, right at the start of the novel, she is forced to flee from her mother's house in Martinique to escape from other elements of the intelligence community which need her dead. The novel goes on to explain why.

The story switches back and forth but it gives a full account of how she and her sister, Helene, start to work for the federal government, then the CIA, and then for even more shadowy agencies doing the CIA's dirty work. The way that Marie is sucked into this work, the odd inducement and even threats which draw her in, are well described. As a black woman, she knows she is both a rarity in the intelligence community and a valuable commodity.

That shows when she is sent to undermine the legitimate government of Burkina Faso by, ultimately, securing compromising photos of its president, suspected by the American government and the CIA of being a dangerous Marxist. You have to suspend an area of disbelief here because that is a real story. Thomas Sankara was a legitimate leader who did much for his country but we know from history that the French and the Americans were involved in undermining his regime. Marie's involvement here with some very shady agencies reads as authentic and, yes, this must have been how they worked. But, it is still fiction.

There is an issue there. Just because this is a distant African country is it all right to compromise the real, and recent, history with your own version? Marie certainly does compromise it in more ways than one! At the same time, there's a lot to be said for a book which unravels the nasty side of undercover infiltration by countries which ought to know better! I think in this case that outweighs the rewriting of history.

The characters are well drawn and, if you didn't know it was fiction, a lot of it would seem like convincing documentary. One slightly disturbing element is that you can't tell from Marie's account of how she becomes a spy whether that is all of the truth. I had the suspicion she was being stage-managed and 'handled' as it were from quite an early age. That’s subtle! The book doesn't make the life of a spy remotely inviting either and it underlines how once a member of that shady community you can somehow never leave. You don't feel optimistic for Marie at the end but at least she's left this document for her children.

All in all, it's a good read. Sometimes the narrative is a little flat covering, as it does, such a span of years but if you're a fly being drawn into a spider's web that probably isn't too scary at the beginning either!
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Interesting premise - different locale - Cold War in Africa, which is definitely not the usual setting for this type of novel. Unfortunately, just didn't grab me, and I couldn't get into it.
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This was a wonderful read. If I had to choose one word to describe it it would be ‘authenticity’.  Everything felt very, very real. I was gripped and and amazed at how the author made it a breeze to follow the historical elements. It made me feel much more informed than I am!  This deserves to be a BIG bestseller. Particularly in these times of global political disarray. I so hope it also becomes a MAJOR motion picture so it can reach an even wider audience.  Something smart and elegant like Costa Gavras’s ‘Missing’.  I am really looking forward to whatever Ms Wilkinson tackles next,
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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a fabulously written political thriller that starts with a jolt. Someone breaks into Marie's house and attempts to kill her with her sons there as well. From there the story is told in letter/journal form to her sons, explaining her past, about who their father is, and why someone might want to kill her. The narrative was concise which kept the pace going even when the story went back to her childhood. I loved that this gave the background to how Marie chose the path she did, her relationship with her sister Helene and the questions surrounding her death, and the complicated relationship she had with her parents. All of this before she even becomes a spy!

American Spy is unique in many ways as a spy thriller because touches on race and gender in the FBI/CIA, politics in Burkina Faso in the 1980's, and specifically about the president Thomas Sankara who was fascinating to read about in the book and in my real life inquiries. I also liked that the story calls into question the moral ambiguity of the US and CIA thinking that they are saviors of the world and are needed to control affairs in other countries. 

Marie writes to her sons saying "One thing I can say for sure is that I don't want you to be moral absolutists. If what I'm telling you of our story means to you that the people it involves are either saved or damned, then you'll have misunderstood me." And that is a big takeaway from this book.
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Terrific story told through the eyes of a black woman living the life her dead sister wanted.Spread over 3 decades  much of it in flashback it shows the changing and unchanging attitudes of the American Intelligence services and FBI.
Working for the FBI in a dead end unappreciated role she is approached by a shadowy figure she assumes is CIA he wants help with an African president they want deposed and replaced by someone more sympathetic to the USA.Seen as a communist sympathiser the president impresses our heroine .a man who has done much for his people ,but her job seems to be to sleep with him to discredit and ruin his reputation.
She soon learns all is not as it seems, her boss linked to the death of her sister, knows more than he is saying and his motives and ambitions seem far removed from those expected.
There is a shocking finale which I didn't see coming and an ending which is left unresolved to some extent.
An interesting exciting and thought provoking book.
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When one night a man breaks into her New York apartment and tries to kill her, Marie knows that it is time to flee and to take her twin boys out of the country since they will not be secure there anymore. As a former member of the FBI she knows how to defend herself, she went through worse, but not her kids. She flees to a tiny village on Martinique where her mother has been living for decades, hoping to earn some time to write down everything that happened years before for her kids to understand one day when they are old enough. Marie thinks back to her beginnings at the agency when she had the impression of being stuck and then the unexpected chance to be a part of something bigger, of doing something good – which ended in an African bloodbath and forced her into hiding.

“American Spy” is Lauren Wilkinson’s first novel after some highly appraised shorter writings. What is quite fascinating about the thriller is that apart from the action part, it offers many different layers and aspects that can be discussed. It is set in the time of the Cold War and of course, first and foremost, the role of the two big players and their proxy wars in Africa obviously take a major part in the book. Yet, it can also be read as a feminist novel since the protagonist struggles to find her place in an all-male federal agency where people are openly sexist. Marie and her Caribbean background also qualify the novel under the label of a Black History book.

The thriller is full of suspense and provides insight into the world of spies. The complicated political situations they are in and the fact that the world is much more greyish than black and white at times forces them to either give up their ideals or simply quit their job. I liked a lot how the author combined Marie’s family history and the ghosts that haunt her with the bigger picture of world politics that, in the end, also can be broken down to personal relationships and enmities. The protagonist makes it easy to sympathise with her and thus you instantaneously immerse into the novel. Additionally, I learned a lot about Burkina Faso’s history, something that I was highly ignorant about.
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American Spy works better as a love story than a spy novel. I liked the setting of Burkina Faso for part of the story. I liked the way the story was written for her children. The time jumps in the book were quite distracting. The bad CIA men were blandly villainous and not foregrounded enough to seem that menacing. I would have liked to spend more of the book with Marie and her family. Three stars.
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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a spy novel, slight thriller and political history lesson thrown into one. 

The narration shifts between three timelines in three cities: New York, Martinique and Burkina Faso. It is easy to follow the threads, and this also helps the reader discover the evolution of Marie’s character: from a young girl in awe of her dynamic sister to a spy not readily accepted or endorsed by her colleagues. 

There were a few unexpected twists and much of the emphasis is on the relationships she has struggled to build over the years. However, for a spy, I found her to be quite naïve and easily manipulated. 

It’s less “thriller” and more “political love story”, but overall I enjoyed it.

The research is sound and the inclusion of significant facts about the CIA, FBI, the Cold War and African dictators throughout the novel almost had me thinking this was an autobiography!

#netgalley #americanspy #laurenwilkinson #littlebrownbookgroup #dialoguebooks
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'American Spy' is a story told in pieces. We ricochet between locations and times with no through line that keeps it all connected together. We hear about the main character's entire life in small fragments, with little pay off in the flash-forwards and backs about the current action. Because the narrative jumps around so much, you never know what's happening in which timeline. I lost interest so quickly because I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. It's missing the intrigue of a spy thriller and the bite of a political examination of one of the USA's most volatile historical periods. 

The story doesn't really get going until about 60% of the way in, when the core mission is revealed. Up until then, Marie's actions have been low-level: we've heard about her traumas, her absent mother, her grief. But they don't really play much with her psyche as a person. She makes questionable decisions and the whole narrative is lead by potential romances with multiple partners. The character motivation is seriously lacking throughout this book because it doesn't feel like there's much to the character at all. 

I can see what this book was trying to go for. The way Wilkinson establishes the setting and re-creates the world of a 1970s/80s/90s is great, particularly when it comes to giving us the facts behind the CIA/FBI activity at the time (and how seriously questionable it was). But otherwise...this book was kind of barren. Despite so much information packed it, so little of it actually felt relevant. This feels very debut-esque. I think it may take a few more novels for Wilkinson to really get her groove going.
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