Red, White, Blue, the new novel from screenwriter Lea Carpenter, is an intriguing, albeit challenging, read. Intriguing in that it revolves around a woman’s exploration into her father’s life—and death—as a CIA operative. Challenging in its narrative structure, which briskly alternates between two points of view over a series of short, nonlinear chapters. But for lovers of spy novels, it’s more than worth the read.
Carpenter carefully details the life of CIA operative Noel, from his training and his exploits within the agency to his ultimate death in an avalanche in the Swiss Alps. His daughter, Anna, who has always believed her father to be a New York banker, learns of his secretive profession by way of an encounter with an unnamed associate, who provides her with a series of recordings and videos about the man she only thought she knew.
As Anna reflects on her relationship with her father, she becomes immersed in the inner workings of the government agency and her father’s role in it. Readers learn along with Anna about the CIA’s secret training facility, the Farm, where future agents learn lessons in espionage. Subsequent sections detail interrogation techniques by polygraphers. And all of it slowly builds to a grander puzzle.
For Anna, coming to grips with her father’s past and his activities is emotional and moving, while at the same time intense and mysterious. The snapshot-like style of the novel takes some getting used to, and readers would be advised to read as much of the book in one or two sittings. Long pauses away from the novel may only serve to kill momentum and possibly sow confusion. Carpenter, who wrote the screenplay for this summer’s action-thriller Mile 22 about the CIA’s Special Activities Division, is well-versed in the shadowy world of espionage as well as adept at crafting an emotional page-turner.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go Behind the Book with Lea Carpenter.