Cover Image: Who Is Vera Kelly?

Who Is Vera Kelly?

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I was disappointed by this book, not helped by the ARC that I received that contained such bad text placing that it made the book much harder to read. It's a slow burn of a spy novel set in Argentina in 1966, I was hoping for intrigue and glamour, given the cover. It's engaging enough but maybe get a print copy.

With thanks to the publisher and net galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Who is Vera Kelly by Rosalie Knecht

A young undercover spy is forced to improvise after her handler goes dark during the Argentinian coup in 1966. In 1957, Vera Kelly is a suicidal teenage girl living in Chevy Chase, Maryland, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; she's sent to juvenile detention after multiple conflicts with her mother.

I chose this book based on the front cover for my reading challenge so I didnt know what it was about before I started.
It was a slow burner, quite well written and Vera was a great character. 
Overall fairly enjoyable but didnt wow me.

Rated 3/5
Was this review helpful?
I was attracted to this book due to the concept of it being 1960s spy thriller a twist of the lesbian as a spy. It didn't This book is shorter than I expected it to be however, I do feel that the author could have had many opportunities to go into more detail and extend the story, for example in creating more of a detailed setting and the chance to look deeper into the sexuality of the main character. The narration of the story feels more like a memoir as if the author has known this spy in the past which was interesting and unexpected. It was a book which i felt moved slowly, which is not the expected pace for a spy book.
Was this review helpful?

 Thank you to the publisher for allowing me to read an e-Arc of this book on NetGalley! 

Who Is Vera Kelly?  is a spy thriller following Vera Kelly, a young adult on a mission in Argentina, attempting to blend in with the gay student crowd and work surveillance on the uprising on the horizon. Despite being described as a thriller, this novel is - in my opinion - more of a character piece, it's more about seeing how Vera acts and works whilst maintaining her cover; reminiscent of the style of  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

The book is told in dual timelines, the 1966 Argentina and flashbacks to Vera's childhood, which I found to be extremely interesting and gave Vera such depth and connection. Seeing the ways in which her young romances echoed her later decisions was perfectly done. The whole cast of characters was really interesting, particularly Victoria - the only thing I would have loved to see is some of Victoria's POV, I think that would have been really interesting.

As someone who doesn't typically read spy-related novels, I found Who Is Vera Kelly?  to be a perfect entry into the genre, bridging the gap between dramatic fiction and the high-action spy thrillers you might expect. 

I would highly recommend this book for readers looking to enter the spy-thriller genre, and fans of the style of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Was this review helpful?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
I expected the book to start in NYC, because the summary says so, but the book actually jumps back and forth between Vera's teenage years up to her NYC move and the "newer" (1965/1966) time line.
Vera is in Argentina for the CIA trying to sniff out communists.
I loved Vera as a protagonist, and was very disheartened by the reality of a lesbian woman in the 60s who could be fired just for loving who she loved. I know it's still not the case everywhere in the world and that is so so sad.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good spy-novel. During this unending epidemic, it's so lovely to be able to travel through books.
It's a historical novel, though I am not familiar with Argentina in that time, so I can't say if it's accurate but from what I googled it seemed to be.
The book made me want to read the sequel straight away, which in a different way maybe was even better.
Was this review helpful?
Who is Vera Kelly?

Well she is lots of things: high school dropout, teenage delinquent chain, smoking operative for the CIA in Argentina during the 1967 military coup.

Which makes her remarkable as she settles into life in Argentina well wiretapping  politicians and pretending to be a student so she can infiltrate possible communists.  

When the coup does happen though Vera is cast adrift and has to manage her wits as a foreigner to get out of Argentina.  

What comes out of Rosalie’s novel is not the Argentinian coup as the politics are almost incidental and she doesn’t delve to deeply into them.  There is the Argentinian Government, the military who want to take control, communists who are everywhere the Americans who are suspicious of everyone.  What comes out is a character study of the people who lived the coup who were still trying to get around their lives.  There is Jazz, chain-smoking, record players and shock horror miniskirts all under the might of the military junta.

Vera is confident, sassy and well able to look after herself.  How she gets out of Argentina is almost hilarious without delving into slapstick or farce.  (Bear in mind I am British, and I can remember Argentinian foreign policy in the early 1980s).  And what emerges here is a 1960s spy novel with very rare female protagonists.
Was this review helpful?
Book review - 3.5/5

If you are planning on reading a super action packed 007esque spy story; this book may not be for you. Knecht focuses heavily on the quieter, more calculated surveillance kind of spy missions. Perhaps a more realistic depiction of spy work but not exactly enthralling content! 

Brief summary: Knecht intertwines two perspectives throughout the novel, flitting between the present day in which Vera is on a mission in 1966 in Argentina to wiretap a Argentine congressman as well as befriend some student activists and her younger years in America. It is a meticulous character study of a woman who struggles to properly fit in as both a spy and as an individual. Knecht also provides the reader with an interesting overview of historical events in Argentina with depictions of the political and social turbulence brought about by Onganía’s coup. 

I had done what I always vow not to do and that’s read the reviews before starting the book! A lot of the reviews complained how this was a slow story with very little action. It is, indeed, the case but nevertheless I really enjoyed it. I think because I wasn’t expecting a sexy, action packed 007 storyline I wasnt set up for disappointment.

Knecht focuses all of her novel on developing Vera’s character and I absolutely adored this. I really liked seeing her naivety in her younger years juxtaposed by her skilled management of the Argentine mission. Additionally, I really appreciate a new spin on the story of an LGBT woman. Instead of being a homosexual who doesn’t fit into a society in which she is outnumbered by heterosexuals; Knecht presents us with a gay woman who feels she struggles to fit into homosexual society. She is depicted as certain of her homosexuality but uncomfortable in trying to immerse herself into the gay scene. I just thought this was a nice alternative to other LGBTQ+ novels I’ve read. Unfortunately, this is not central to the novel’s overall plot and I would’ve enjoyed seeing this explored a bit more and in further detail. Often romantic encounters are left unexplored or cut short. 

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Argentinian history during 1960s so sometimes the historical facts that are referenced went slightly over my head. I think there was enough to get a very vague idea but I feel like if you don’t know much about communism in Cuba, its spread to South America and the Cold War that you might get a little bit lost. 

I found I got very lost when reading the first 50 pages of the book. Initially, I really hated the constant flitting between past and present. I found it very disorienting - like every time I got used to one time zone it would change to the next. But after a while I got the hang of it. I would’ve liked the chapters set in the past to be a bit longer. They were often only a page or two long. 

I found it very hard to keep track of all the different characters! There were so many! I think it would’ve helped me if I had done a character list whilst reading but that would’ve detracted from the story. I felt the secondary characters were all inconsequential that it was hard to tell them apart. 

Altogether, a very in-depth character study of a female spy who lives on the fringes of society. The book was well written and really picked up once I was 50% of the way through. Although, I would’ve liked to have explored Vera’s sexuality in more depth and I think there could’ve been fewer characters as I felt they just made the plot unnecessarily complicated.
Was this review helpful?
I love this cover so much, and I think it's very apt, because this is much more of a character piece than a spy thriller. It's a compelling, readable story.
Was this review helpful?
In the back of my copy of Who Is Vera Kelly? is one of those question sets designed to guide a reading group. One of the questions which caught my eye was ‘Lots of girls grew up reading Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew novels. Why do you think there are so few adult spy novels starring female spies?’.

It is a good question and the reason I was drawn to it is because the experience of reading Who Is Vera Kelly? was a very unusual one; firstly because there are so few female spies in adult novels, and because there are even fewer queer ones. In Who Is Vera Kelly?, Rosalie Knecht has created a world that manages to feel very familiar whilst also being fresh and exciting merely by who her main character is.

Who Is Vera Kelly? follows our eponymous hero on her first big mission in 1960s Beunos Aires, as she attempts to root out a KGB plot in the tumultuous Argentine political scene, all whilst posing as a Canadian student. Interspersed with these scenes are flashbacks to her life leading up to how she was recruited to the CIA, highlighting her poor relationship with her mother and the friendship with Joanne which seems to have been the main driver in many of the decisions Vera made along the way. It’s a relatively simple plot, not overly complicated as a lot of spy novels can be, but no less of a page turner because of it.

Where Knecht’s real strength lies though is creating the world of her novel. When I was younger, I was devoted to Graham Greene, and Who Is Vera Kelly? gave me a lot of the same vibes as reading his work. The sense of place is very strong, with sharp observations of Argentine life and the people who surround Vera. It is immersive writing in the very best way; not over descriptive, sketching in just enough details to paint a picture without being flowery. Knecht handles the world through Vera’s eyes as though she has been doing it for a long time.

And of course, what is really a bit of a revelation is that we are looking through Vera’s eyes at all. As the reading guide question says, there are not many novels like this with female protagonists, especially written in this way which seemingly deliberately invokes the tone of some of the very best spy novels of the past. The reason that this world feels familiar to me is because of the legacy of literature in which Who Is Vera Kelly? can fit, but the freshness comes from Vera being a woman, and being queer too.

In fact, I would say that more of Vera’s character comes from being queer than it does from being a woman. She knows how to negotiate the world as a woman; she is self-assured and confident. We could have been easily treated to any number of scenes in which Vera is forced to be afraid of the men around her, but I can’t think of a single time that happened in this novel. She glides through even the most dangerous situations at least appearing to be in control to the people around her.

No, Vera’s true struggle comes in her sexuality. She is afraid to find the underground gay scene in Beunos Aires because that is the thing that could leave her open and vulnerable if anyone finds out. In the flashback scenes, we watch a young Vera first discover and then explore her sexuality. She is very much enduring the early queer experience of not knowing why she is so sad to be separated from her friend, or wondering why her letters to the same friend look like love letters.

The thing that makes Who Is Vera Kelly? such a great read is that we need queer stories exactly like it. Coming out stories have their place, of course, but we are in desperate need always of stories which do not have sexuality or gender identity as the main focus, but rather as part of the rich tapestry of a character, just as in novels with cishet main characters. By invoking these old classic spy thrillers in her tone and world building, but introducing a character who is a queer woman to explore it, Knecht has done a great job of providing exactly one of these highly necessary stories.
Was this review helpful?
After a turbulent youth, the break-up with her mom, some time in a detention centre and no plan what to do with her life, Vera ends up in New York, trying this job and that job. One day, she is addressed by a man who noticed her quick wits and technical understanding. He is a recruiter for the CIA and thus, a couple of years later, Vera finds herself in Buenos Aires with the fake ID of a Canadian student named Anne. Her mission: spy on a group of students who the CIA believes to work for the KGB in order to ally Argentina with the Soviet Union. Vera/Anne makes befriends Ramón and Victoria who have radicalised and are disappointed by how the country is governed. Yet, then suddenly, the military ventures a coup d’état and General Onganía’s men take over. Vera/Anne is stuck, foreigners are not allowed to travel anymore, her local contact betrayed her and she gets the runaround by her superior within the CIA. Either she acts for herself, or she is lost.

“Who Is Vera Kelly?” is not an easy to classify novel. It is a kind of bildungsroman, we get to know young Vera who protests against her mother and school and has to grow up the hard way. A young woman who is looking for her place in life and oscillates between different options without a clear aim. On the other hand, the novel is a political or spy crime novel since we have Vera/Anne prying on rebellious students to uncover any KGB involvement in Argentina and also the time after the Revolución which brings the military dictatorship and severe restrictions for the people. 

At both times of her life, Vera is lonely, her affection for her school friend is not returned and also when she arrives in New York does she not find a person to really bond with. This qualifies for a lone spy job abroad where she is left to her own devices and cannot really build deep friendships. The experiences she made as a teenager, especially with her mother who kicked her out into the detention centre and did not show any interest in her, gave her quite a good education for her mission. 

Vera is not a classic heroine, she is no James Bond and does not compare to any other dazzling movie character. She is actually the perfect spy, she blends in smoothly, goes unnoticed and her technical skills allow her even without any sophisticated equipment to get the information she needs. When she finds herself deserted of all contacts and help, she is close to breaking down but then shows her real strength. She just goes on and finds a solution to escape.

A perfect blend of a young woman who is far ahead of her time in terms of emancipation and going her own way and a world in political turmoil. The plot becomes increasingly suspenseful and thus is a real page-turner.
Was this review helpful?
A noir spy story with a queer woman protagonist? Count me in. I’m always excited to find LGBT characters whose sexuality is part of their story and not the sole focus. There’s only so many coming out narratives I can read before they all blur. 

I liked Vera’s characterisation, especially the flashbacks to her youth which interspersed the main plot. Unfortunately, however, I found the pacing a little off and wasn’t wrapped up in the suspense of it all as I’d hoped. I also wished that there had been more criticism of the CIA and their actions throughout - it felt uncomfortable rooting for foreign intervention in the politics of a sovereign nation. 

A solid three stars from me, I enjoyed the novel but felt it didn’t quite reach its potential. 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I was drawn to this book, firstly by the cool retro cover, and secondly by the concept of a 1960s lesbian spy thriller... It didn't exactly tick all of those boxes. It's quite short, but feels rushed. The narration is quite simple, while the (potentially fascinating) setting isn't totally fleshed out.It's definitely more of a character driven book than one that's high-action or suspenseful. I also felt a little let down by the "lesbian" aspect of the book. It probably should not be marketed as such.

That being said, it held my interest to the end. I do think the main problem with this book is that it's being marketed as a thrilling lesbian spy page turner! It is not one, and people who are expecting that will be let down. What it is a short, easy-to-read character study. 3 stars.
Was this review helpful?
I received this ARC from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

What a rollercoaster of emotions and what a well written tale. is one of my favourite novel. A heartwarming story. Would love to add it to my library, provided I get it in India,
Was this review helpful?
This is a great read. I would read more by this author because she is adept at weaving a compelling story that feels real.
Was this review helpful?
What has drawn me first to Rosalie Knecht’s ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ was the cover – retro and atmospheric with the catchy title made me want to read this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

Set in the 1960s, ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ follows young Vera, a woman in her twenties, who after many wrong choices and messy events, gets recruited by CIA and sent on a mission to Argentina, in the middle of political upheaval. She is tasked with befriending and spying on a group of students in Buenos Aires, who presumably are being recruited for KGB. 

‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ has double-narrative – we follow Vera both on her assignment, but w also get short glimpses into Vera’s background. While interesting, I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed that much of Vera’s backstory, at least not in this form, but on overall, I have enjoyed the writing style a lot.

What I liked the most about Rosalie Knecht’s book was how character-driven it was. Most thrillers and mysteries are fast-paced narratives focusing predominantly on the action. ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ though full of events and often extremely dangerous and stressful situations for the main character, is slower, more focused on Vera herself – exploring her journey, her thoughts and feelings. In many ways, Rosalie Knecht’s is more literary than most books from the genre, but it is something I have enjoyed here very much. It has added another layer to the atmosphere of the book – both the setting and the character had felt more alive as a result.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed this enormously—the dyke Graham Greene novel that I’ve been waiting for for years. Knecht’s vision of turbulent mid-1960s Argentina is fantastically atmospheric: its Beaux-Arts architecture, glasses of fernet branca, too-hot evenings and too-cold pre-dawn mornings. Reading it you can practically see the zebra-crossing light and shadow of a set of Venetian blinds on the wall. I found Vera’s distant, often closed-off narration (and Knecht’s spare, glamorous prose) fantastically refreshing. And I loved the central contention of the book, that the skills Vera learns as a midcentury homosexual—how to obfuscate, code-switch, conceal, disguise—are central to her success as a spy. I think I’d have liked Vera’s revelations about the nastiness and immorality of the CIA to be pushed a little further, but it might have been a less subtle story if they had, so I can’t really complain. I will definitely be buying the second book!
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Tin House Books (the publisher of this novel) for providing me with an ARC copy for an honest review. 

Slow Burn. Seriously. It’s slow. That snail in your garden? A speedy comparison to this. 

So why did I rate it 4 (3.5) stars? Because, a thriller and suspenseful spy novel it’s not. But an interesting look into spy occupation and LGBT+ lives in the 50s/60s? It really is. 

Seriously, I was never sure what to think of this book. I went in expecting a Bosch esque spy thriller and ended up with a fairly vivid account of lgbt+ life and a girl who for a long time got nothing right in a life that wasn’t going her way. And I loved it. I loved that she was so normal, and that we got to see into her background, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of this isn’t what I was expecting - at all - from the blurb. 

If you love suspenseful spy novels, this probably isn’t for you. However if you like slower plot lines, with a historical depth, this may well be the book for you. It’s certainly an intriguing read for LGBT+ folk, and as a queer gal myself, I really enjoyed reading a plot so far from the normal tropes of lgbt+ story lines.
Was this review helpful?