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3.0 out of 5 starsa mish-mash
Reviewed in the United States on March 9, 2019
Sorry to dissent from the many positive reviews. This book is promoted as a spy thriller; it is not. Very little of the plot has to do with spying, and I for one found none of it thrilling. What the book is, is a better-than-average piece of heart throbbing chick lit, hung on a heroine who is sort of a spy who longs for the -- oops, spoiler. I can say, and longs, and longs, and longs. It's really chick lit discussion of the heroine as mother whose feelings, if not her day-to-day life, are pretty much glued to her kids. So, my humble advice: if you want a spy thriller, ignore the hype and do not buy this book. If you want to revel in feminine feelings, then go ahead and I hope you enjoy it.
5.0 out of 5 starsA superb new novel about Cold War rivalry in Africa
Reviewed in the United States on March 12, 2019
"I was a Special Agent in the FBI from 1983 to 1987, and in that time CIA hired me twice as a temporary contractor, the phrase they use for spy." The narrator is Marie Mitchell. American Spy is her story, written in 1992 in the first person as a diary for her young twin sons to read when they're older. The action spans the thirty preceding years—from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the "New World Order" following the end of the Cold War.
Marie is the younger of two sisters. Helene, now dead, was five years older and Marie's idol. It had been Helene's ambition to join the CIA and later form her own private intelligence agency. And that's what has led Marie to the FBI, and ultimately to agree to two assignments from the Company. Except, as we'll learn later, they might not have come from the CIA at all.
From New York to Martinique to Burkina Faso
In American Spy, the action shifts rapidly and often from New York City to Martinique to Burkina Faso in flashbacks and flashforwards. Marie's FBI posting was in the City. Her family had come from Martinique, and her mother has returned there to live. And Marie's work for the CIA involves "getting close" to the dictator of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara.
Cold War rivalry in Africa lies at the heart of this story
Author Lauren Wilkinson has built her tale around real-world events that transpired in Burkina Faso. Her portrait of Sankara and her account of the actions he took as president of his country hew closely to the historical record. Sankara, and the country he tried so hard to reform, were victims of the Cold War between the US and the USSR.
Suspenseful, psychologically sound, and ultimately believable
Wilkinson's command of plotting and character development are both skillful. Obviously, she understands the discriminatory treatment that hidebound agencies like the FBI so commonly doled out in years past to women and people of color. American Spy is suspenseful, psychologically sound, and ultimately believable. It's all too typical of the Cold War rivalry that victimized so many small nations caught in the middle between two superpowers.
How another reviewer saw the book
In reviewing American Spy, NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan wrote in the Washington Post Book Review (February 15, 2019), "Lauren Wilkinson’s new novel, 'American Spy, is extraordinary in a lot of ways — most obviously because it places a female African American intelligence officer, Marie Mitchell, at the center of a Cold War tale of political espionage. But also striking is the novel’s deeper recognition that, to some extent, rudimentary tradecraft is something all of her African American characters have learned as an everyday survival skill. As Marie’s father wryly tells her on the day of her graduation from the FBI training academy at Quantico, 'I’ve been a spy in this country for as long as I can remember.'"
Why some author in "The Week" magazine gave this a good review is beyond me. The entire book is a female spy/agent/cop whatever, writing down her life story so her kids can read it (maybe when she dies? I don't know, as I can't finish it). If you want to go to sleep at night, this'll do you. If you are expected cool spy stuff and any action at all, don't bother. Maybe it will get better at the end, but I can't make it. It is more about growing up black in NYC and trying to make it. I suppose for that aspect, its a great story. Just not what I expected. Should have done more research first.
2.0 out of 5 starsI really wanted to like this book (spoilers ahead)
Reviewed in the United States on May 2, 2019
But I found it lumbering and had trouble with the main character's motivation. Why exactly did she become a spy? Why exactly was she so enamored with the leader of that African country? Why did she decide to leave her children? The whole thing defied belief. On one hand she was a smart, cool cucumber, yet she allowed herself to get duped so easily. This made no sense to me. I wanted her to be more empowered. Instead she seemed not to have a handle on anything.
Reviewed in the United States on February 28, 2019
This book was unlike any I’ve ever read. A quick and unpredictable storyline, superb writing and characters I actually cared about. I truly did not want it to end! In fact, I started getting depressed as I approached the end and paused to find other books like it by Black woman authors (to no avail). I absolutely loved her writing (and thinking) and loved getting a completely different take on Africa. I’ll definitely be looking for her next one! Bravo!
5.0 out of 5 starsAmerican Spy had everything I needed in it to love it.
Reviewed in the United States on February 21, 2019
American Spy had everything I needed in it to love it. A hook that smacks you in the face as soon as you open the book. An exotic yet relatable backstory. Sister spies. A how-I-met-your-father romantic mystery. And enough plot twists to keep me on my toes. Lauren Wilkinson is a gifted writer bringing a diverse cast of characters into the political thriller arena with an explosive plot that gives a refreshing perspective on history that hasn’t gotten much exposure in this genre. I loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel.
4.0 out of 5 starsA spy thriller with a female protagonist
Reviewed in the United States on March 23, 2019
A story with great twists and turns. The plot is rich and the antagonists are quite multidimensional. I have read many spy thrillers with male protagonists whose stock in trade was womanizing apart from being bad-ass villains quick with their gun and able to escape from near death situations. It was refreshing to see a black woman play protagonist in a spy novel in which the FBI and CIA are intricately woven in. I liked how the protagonist showed empathy to the needs of the Burkina nation and it's people. The relationship between Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaore is nicely peeled like the layers of an onion. The ending of the book was somewhat weak. The death of her sister Helene was never resolved.
Good and believable plot and has pace. Not so keen on the new style adopted by lots of authors where the story jumps from place, characters and decades of time. Bit of a generic gimmick. Really liked the parts set in Africa, so gripping and unusual.
3.0 out of 5 starsI really wanted to love it but...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 7, 2020
I really wanted to like this more. The characters are great, and the writing good, but the way it’s told in flashback with the device of writing the story out for her sons made the pace unbearably slow.
Reads more like non-fiction, as if it were a true-life story - and that felt confusing at times. The forwards and backwards timescales were irritating, especially as they were woven in and out of different threads of the story. The writing quality is high, though, and it gives some insight into the life of a very different kind of spy. I can’t help feeling it could have been a lot better, with some robust editing.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 17, 2020
I found this an impossible read , even though I stuck with it to see if I could start to enjoy it. Ended up speed reading but unfortunately that didn’t speed the story up. Too much packing, perhaps to fill pages to make the story into a book. Sorry, I had to put it down, and down it stays. The author obviously wishes to be different and I must admit, for me, she has managed it.
I know I enjoyed this but ten days after finishing it I remember nothing of it, for which I apologise to the writer.She deserves better but she is fishing in an over-fished pond. But I did enjoy it, that I remember and you will too.