STARRED REVIEW
March 23, 2021

Red Widow

By Alma Katsu
Review by

Alma Katsu, known for her spooky historical novels, showcases her versatility in Red Widow, an espionage thriller.

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Alma Katsu, known for her spooky historical novels, showcases her versatility in Red Widow, an espionage thriller.

A rising star in the CIA, Lyndsey Duncan finds herself in hot water for dating another intelligence officer. She’s given the chance to redeem herself by sniffing out a mole in the Russia division. Three high-level Russian assets are either missing or dead, and it appears the FSB (the contemporary successor to the KGB, Russia’s secret police and intelligence agency) is being fed information from inside the CIA. For Lyndsey, it’s personal. She was the former handler for one of the assets, and she can’t help but feel as though the agency let him down.

Theresa Warner, one of Lyndsey’s colleagues at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, is called the Red Widow behind her back. Theresa’s late husband, Richard, was rising up the ranks of "the company" before he was killed in Russia during an operation that went catastrophically wrong. Theresa’s allegiance to the Russia division after her husband’s tragic death makes her a legendary figure in the CIA, but Lyndsey, known as the “human lie detector,” can’t help but feel something is off with the other agent.

Katsu spent 35 years as a senior intelligence analyst for both the CIA and the National Security Agency, and her insider perspective lends nuance and depth to the plot. Many spy thrillers depend on globe-trotting adventures, car chases or action sequences, but Red Widow zeroes in on the inner workings of the CIA and the FSB. Lyndsey never leaves Langley, which could have made the story feel airless and limited, but Katsu’s extensive knowledge of this world creates a deeply immersive experience instead.

As Lyndsey's and Theresa’s stories become more entwined, a shocking betrayal forces both of them to question their allegiance to an agency that specializes in manipulation—even of its own professionals. The proverbial call is coming from inside the house, and that jolt of paranoia ratchets up suspense since it gives both characters, and by extension the reader, absolutely nowhere to feel grounded and no one to trust.

Katsu’s real-life experience and skill at maintaining taut, nail-biting tension make Red Widow a standout espionage thriller.

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Red Widow

Red Widow

By Alma Katsu
Putnam
ISBN 9780525539414

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