After a break-in at her home in which she is forced to defend herself from an assassin, Marie Mitchell decides to document her life for the benefit of her children in case she is one day killed. So begins Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel, American Spy, which chronicles the life of a black woman recruited to the CIA during the height of the Cold War.
In the ensuing pages, Marie recounts her early childhood infatuation with spies, such as James Bond in Goldfinger, and her own family’s role in law enforcement, from her father’s position in the Harlem police department to her sister Helene’s work as an Army intelligence officer. Even though she proves more than adept at both physical combat techniques and mental manipulation of her own “recruits”—the kind of stuff that only the best spies are capable of—Marie is consigned to being a paper pusher for much of her career in the FBI. So she is more than surprised when she is approached to work undercover for the CIA in a high-profile case.
The CIA needs Marie to get close to and undermine Robert Sankara, the revolutionary president of the tiny West African nation of Burkina Faso. At first, Marie is reluctant to accept the job, but her desire to make something more of her life—and perhaps her despair over the mysterious death of her sister—convinces her otherwise. Taking on the task becomes more than complicated, however, when she develops a real affection for Sankara, who will eventually father her two boys, thereby causing her to question her loyalty to the U.S. and its policies.
While not as complex as a John le Carré spy thriller, Wilkinson’s debut is both emotional and poignant, and one that readers can easily get caught up in.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Behind the Book feature from Lauren Wilkinson on American Spy.