NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • FINALIST FOR THE ITW THRILLER AWARD • Perfect husband. Perfect father. Perfect liar?
“Breathtaking, heart-pounding.”—Louise Penny
“A fast-paced, relentlessly gripping read.”—Chris Pavone
Vivian Miller. High-powered CIA analyst, happily married to a man she adores, mother of four beautiful children. Until the moment she makes a shocking discovery that makes her question everything she believes.
She thought she knew her husband inside and out. But now she wonders if it was all a lie. How far will she go to learn the truth? And does she really . . .
. . . NEED TO KNOW?
Film rights sold to Universal Pictures for Charlize Theron • Rights sold in more than 20 markets
“Shaping up to be one of the year’s biggest new thrillers.”—Entertainment Weekly
“So timely . . . Think of the perfect mix of Homeland and The Americans. . . . Need to Know needs to be read by all who relish spy novels. As entertaining as it is informative and as irresistible as it is impossible to put down.”—Providence Journal
“Pulse-pounding.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Accomplished . . . a nonstop thriller tapping into a hot mix of contemporary digital counterintelligence, old-school spying and ageless family drama.”—Shelf Awareness
“An early contender for next year’s Gone Girl.”—GQ (UK)
“The Russia page-turner that should be on everyone’s list.”—New York Post
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Karen Cleveland is a former CIA analyst. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin (international peace studies) and Harvard University (public policy). Cleveland lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young sons. This is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Two Days Earlier
“Bad news, Viv.”
I hear Matt’s voice, words anyone would dread, but a tone that’s reassuring. Light, apologetic. It’s something unfortunate, sure, but it’s manageable. Anything truly bad and his voice would be heavier. He’d use a complete sentence, a complete name. I have some bad news, Vivian.
I hold the phone to my ear with a raised shoulder, swivel my chair to the other side of the L-shaped desk, to the computer centered under gray overhead bins. I guide the cursor to the owl-shaped icon on the screen and double-click. If it’s what I think it is—what I know it is—then I only have a bit longer at my desk.
“Ella?” I say. My gaze drifts to one of the crayon drawings tacked to the high cubicle walls with pushpins, a pop of color in this sea of gray.
“A hundred point eight.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. We’ve been expecting it. Half her class has been sick, falling like dominoes, so it was only a matter of time. Four-year-olds aren’t exactly the cleanliest bunch. But today? It had to happen today?
“Just the temp.” He pauses. “Sorry, Viv. She seemed fine when I dropped her off.”
I swallow past the tightening in my throat and nod, even though he can’t see me. Any other day and he’d pick her up. He can work from home, at least in theory. I can’t, and I used up all my leave when the twins were born. But he’s taking Caleb into the city for the latest round of medical appointments. I’ve been feeling guilty for weeks that I’ll have to miss it. And now I’ll be missing it and still using leave I don’t have.
“I’ll be there in an hour,” I say. The rules say we have an hour from the time they call. Factoring in the drive and the walk to my car—it’s in the outer reaches of Langley’s sprawling parking lots—that gives me about fifteen minutes to wrap up work for the day. Fifteen minutes less leave to add to my negative balance.
I glance at the clock in the corner of my screen—seven minutes past ten—and then my eyes shift to the Starbucks cup beside my right elbow, steam escaping from the hole in the plastic lid. I treated myself, a splurge in celebration of the long-awaited day, fuel for the tedious hours ahead. Precious minutes wasted in line that could have been spent digging through digital files. Should have stuck to the usual, the sputtering coffee maker that leaves grounds floating at the top of the mug.
“That’s what I told the school,” Matt says. “School” is actually our day care center, the place where our youngest three spend their days. But we’ve been calling it school since Luke was three months old. I’d read it could help ease the transition, lessen the guilt of leaving your baby for eight, ten hours a day. It didn’t, but old habits die hard, I guess.
There’s another pause, and I can hear Caleb babbling in the background. I listen, and I know that Matt’s listening, too. It’s like we’re conditioned to do so at this point. But it’s just vowel sounds. Still no consonants.
“I know today was supposed to be a big day . . . ,” Matt finally says, and trails off. I’m used to the trailing off, the evasive conversations on my open line. I always assume someone’s listening in. The Russians. The Chinese. That’s part of the reason Matt’s the first one the school calls when there’s a problem. I’d rather him filter some of the kids’ personal details from the ears of our adversaries.
Call me paranoid, or just call me a CIA counterintelligence analyst.
But really, that’s about all Matt knows. Not that I’ve been trying in vain to uncover a network of Russian sleeper agents. Or that I’ve developed a methodology for identifying people involved in the highly secretive program. Just that I’ve waited months for this day. That I’m about to find out if two years of hard work is going to pay off. And if I stand a chance at that promotion we desperately need.
“Yeah, well,” I say, moving my mouse back and forth, watching Athena load, the cursor in the shape of a timer. “Caleb’s appointment is what’s important today.”
My eyes drift back to the cubicle wall, the bright crayon drawings. Ella’s, a picture of our family, stick arms and legs protruding straight from six round happy faces. Luke’s, a bit more sophisticated, a single person, thick jagged scribbles to color in hair and clothing and shoes. MOMMY, it says in big capital letters. From his superhero phase. It’s me, in a cape, hands on my hips, an S on my shirt. Supermommy.
There’s a familiar feeling in my chest, the pressure, the overwhelming urge to cry. Deep breaths, Viv. Deep breaths.
“The Maldives?” Matt says, and I feel the hint of a smile creep to my lips. He always does this, finds a way to make me smile when I need it most. I glance at the photograph of the two of us on the corner of my desk, my favorite from our wedding day, almost a decade ago. Both of us so happy, so young. We always talked about going somewhere exotic for our ten-year anniversary. It’s certainly not in the cards anymore. But it’s fun to dream. Fun and depressing at the same time.
“Bora Bora,” I say.
“I could live with that.” He hesitates, and in the gap I hear Caleb again. More vowel sounds. Aah-aah-aah. In my head, I’m calculating the months Chase has already been making consonant sounds. I know I shouldn’t—all the doctors say I shouldn’t—but I am.
“Bora Bora?” I hear from behind me, faux-incredulous. I put my hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and turn. It’s Omar, my FBI counterpart, an amused expression on his face. “That one might be hard to justify, even for the Agency.” He breaks into a grin. Infectious as ever, it brings one to my own face, as well.
“What are you doing here?” I say, my hand still covering the mouthpiece. I can hear Caleb babbling in my ear. O’s this time. Ooh-ooh-ooh.
“Had a meeting with Peter.” He takes a step closer, perches on the edge of my desk. I can see the outline of his holster at his hip, through his T-shirt. “The timing may or may not have been a coincidence.” He glances at my screen and the grin fades ever so slightly. “It was today, right? Ten a.m.?”
I look at my screen, dark, the cursor still in the shape of a timer. “It was today.” The babbling in my ear has gone quiet. I roll my chair so that I’m turned, just a touch, away from Omar and remove my hand from the mouthpiece. “Honey, I have to go. Omar’s here.”
“Tell him I said hi,” Matt says.
“Love you, too.” I set the phone down on its base and turn back to Omar, who’s still sitting on my desk, denim-clad legs outstretched, feet crossed at the ankles. “Matt says hi,” I tell him.
“Aaah, so he’s the Bora Bora connection. Planning a vacation?” The grin’s back, full force.
“In theory,” I say with a half-hearted laugh. It sounds pathetic enough that I can feel color rise to my cheeks.
He looks at me for a moment longer, then thankfully down at his wrist. “All right, it’s ten-ten.” He uncrosses his ankles, crosses them the opposite way. Then leans forward, the excitement on his face unmistakable. “What have you got for me?”
Omar’s been doing this longer than I have. A decade, at least. He’s looking for the actual sleepers in the U.S., and I’m trying to uncover those running the cell. Neither of us has had any success. How he’s still so enthusiastic never fails to amaze me.
“Nothing yet. I haven’t even taken a look.” I nod at the screen, the program that’s still loading, then glance at the black-and-white photograph tacked to my cubicle wall, beside the kids’ drawings. Yury Yakov. Fleshy face, hard expression. A few more clicks and I’ll be inside his computer. I’ll be able to see what he sees, navigate around the way he does, pore through his files. And hopefully prove that he’s a Russian spy.
“Who are you and what have you done with my friend Vivian?” Omar asks with a smile.
He’s right. If it wasn’t for the line at Starbucks, I’d have logged in to the program at ten a.m. on the dot. I’d have had a few minutes to look around, at least. I shrug and gesture at the screen. “I’m trying.” Then I nod toward the phone. “But in any case, it’s going to have to wait. Ella’s sick. I need to go pick her up.”
He exhales dramatically. “Kids. Always the worst timing.”
Movement on the screen draws my attention, and I roll my chair closer. Athena’s finally loading. There are red banners on all sides, a slew of words, each signifying a different control, a different compartment. The longer the string of text, the more classified. This one’s pretty darn long.
I click past one screen, then another. Each click is an acknowledgment. Yes, I know I’m accessing compartmented information. Yes, I know I can’t disclose it or I’ll go to jail for a very long time. Yes, yes, yes. Just get me to the information already.
“This is it,” Omar says. I remember he’s there and glance at him out of the corner of my eye. He’s looking away purposefully, studiously avoiding the screen, giving me privacy. “I feel it.”
“I hope so,” I murmur. And I do. But I’m nervous. This methodology is a gamble. A big one. I built a profile for suspected handlers: educational institution, studies and degrees, banking centers, travel within Russia and abroad. Came up with an algorithm, identified five individuals who best fit the pattern. Likely candidates.
The first four turned out to be false leads, and now the program’s on the chopping block. Everything rests on Yury. Number five. The computer that was the hardest to break into, the one I had the most confidence in to begin with.
“And if it’s not,” Omar says, “you did something that no one else has been able to do. You got close.”
Targeting the handlers is a new approach. For years, the Bureau’s been trying to identify the sleepers themselves, but they’re so well assimilated it’s next to impossible. The cell is designed so that sleepers don’t have contact with anyone but their handler, and even that is minimal. And the Agency’s been focused on the ringleaders, the guys who oversee the handlers, the ones in Moscow with direct ties to the SVR, Russian intelligence.
“Close doesn’t count,” I say quietly. “You know that better than anyone.”
Around the time I started on the account, Omar was a hard-charging new agent. He’d proposed a new initiative, inviting entrenched sleepers to “come in from the cold” and turn themselves in, in exchange for amnesty. His reasoning? There had to be at least a few sleepers who wanted to turn their covers into reality, and we might be able to learn enough from the turned sleepers to penetrate the network as a whole.
The plan was rolled out quietly, and within a week we had a walk-in, a man named Dmitri. Said he was a midlevel handler, told us information about the program that corroborated what we knew—handlers like himself were responsible for five sleepers each; he reported to a ringleader who was responsible for five handlers. A completely self-contained cell. That got our attention, for sure. Then came the outrageous claims, the information that was inconsistent with everything we knew to be true, and then he disappeared. Dmitri the Dangle, we called him after that.
That was the end of the program. The thought of publicly admitting there were sleepers in the U.S., of admitting our inability to find them, was already barely palatable to Bureau seniors. Between that and the potential for Russian manipulation—dangling double agents with false leads—Omar’s plan was roundly criticized, then rejected. We’ll be inundated with other Dmitris, they said. And with that, Omar’s once-promising career trajectory stalled. He fell into obscurity, plugging away, day after day, at a thankless, frustrating, impossible task.
Reading Group Guide
1. The title of the novel points to Vivian’s pursuit of the truth and her drive to determine what matters most to her. Ultimately, what are the things Vivian needs to know about her career and about her marriage?
2. Did you believe Matt when he assured Vivian that his intentions were pure? Were you suspicious of him at any point in the novel? Why?
3. Early in the novel, Vivian is asked to make a decision that pits her loyalty to her country against her loyalty to her family. Does she end up choosing between them, or does she manage to reconcile the two? What would you have done in her shoes?
4. On page 147, Vivian describes the day Luke almost got hit by a car. She instinctively screamed when she saw the car nearly run Luke over, while Matt remained silent. What is the purpose of this scene? What do the parents’ differing reactions reflect about their personalities?
5. Vivian tampers with confidential CIA files and programs multiple times throughout the novel. Were the things she did unethical or justified? Did she jeopardize the nation’s security?
6. Vivian and Matt both serve their respective countries, albeit in different ways. How do their national alliances affect their lives? Do their allegiances change over the course of the novel?
7. Vivian wants to provide the best life possible for her children, and she will do anything to protect them. But if Vivian had not had children to consider, do you think she would have made the same choices?
8. Do the events of the novel irreversibly change Vivian and Matt’s relationship?
9. Karen Cleveland was a CIA analyst herself. Think about the scenes where Vivian is inside the CIA headquarters—what details interested or surprised you? Did you feel you had an inside perspective into the processes of the CIA?
10. What do you know about sleeper cells in the United States? Do you feel they’re a serious threat the public should worry about?
11. Interspersed in the narrative are flashbacks to milestones in Vivian and Matt’s relationship. Did you like these scenes? What did they add to the story—or did they detract from it?
12. On page 267, Vivian says, “They get you where you’re most vulnerable.…With us, it was our family.” Where would you be the “most vulnerable”? Why?
13. Discuss the ambivalence Vivian feels about returning to the CIA after having a year off with her family. Why do you think Vivian decides to go back to work at the end of the novel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Page turner..Had to keep reading...Could it really happen???..In the world today it looks like they are getting closer... Interesting ending...
I enjoyed the book. The author really portrayed the woman's emotions and inner dialogue very well. The ending makes you think in today's political climate.
Such a sleeper! I could t put it down. Even when you could only imagine disaster, it turned in another direction. The ending left me anxiously awaiting the sequel. John Grisham’s recommendation made me buy it immediately and I’m so glad I did!
I enjoyed the book and would like to see a sequel. Ending was predictable so step up the game in book 2.
Keeps your attention to the very (surprise) ending.
Excellent, suspenseful. Great read!
Couldn't put it down.
I am watching a new TV series about a women who was a American spy and she was put in a situation where she had to betray her country as she was given a choice to tell or her daughter would die. I think if you are going to be in job like that you shouldn't have children. Or maybe not get married. I also feel in this book Matt was Avery good lier. Looks like he still is a lier. I think he is still a spy.
Absolutely could not put it down! On vacation with 3 other couples and found endless ways to escape from the group to read! DEVOURED it. Loved the way she had you sympathizing, even justifying while still being horrified. You never know how far you will go for your loved ones, or for your country....
Kind of predictable. The end was what I expected all along which was a bit disappointing.
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Viv and Matt live a full life. Viv has a demanding job as a counterintelligence analyst for the CIA. While she is looking for Russian sleeper agents on U.S. soil, Matt takes on most of the duties of child rearing. They have a young daughter that is older than their twin boys. One of the boys has developmental problems requiring frequent visits to specialists that Matt willingly takes care of. Like any couple that has been married for over a decade, they know each other inside out. Because of the cost of her son’s specialists, Viv had to go back to work sooner than she planned. But she loves and believes in the importance of her job. She is on the cusp of having her hard work to pay off. She has developed a program to identify people involved in these sleeper cells. Pictures start appearing on her monitor, she recognizes one of them. It is Matt. Has her whole life been a lie? How could he be a Russian spy and did he marry her because she works for the CIA? The old adage of keeping your enemies close just might be the reason Matt met her in the first place. So many things run through Viv’s mind she can barely breathe, but she knows her husband is mixed up in something that has the ability to implode her family. Once Matt is confronted, Viv realizes that she will have to make impossible decisions involving the country she loves and the safety of her family. She can no longer trust anything Matt says – or can she? Was he trapped in situation that he did not want to be in? Is he lying or telling her the truth? Viv has to make a move that will change the rest of their lives forever. Debut novelist Karen Cleveland’s psychological thriller will keep you up late into the night. Her characters come to life on the pages and the twist in the last chapter will stay with the reader long after closing the book. Need to Know could literally be ripped from today’s headlines. Recently I was in Washington D.C. at the Newseum. There is a section on spy cells that infiltrate the U.S. and how they are uncovered. The real life spies acted much like the ones in Cleveland’s novel. The realism of the book became more and more evident with each exhibit. It is evident that Cleveland, a former CIA agent, is a gifted novelist. Need to Know holds a well-deserved spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. Film rights to the book have been sold – snatch up this book before the movie hits the screen. While I am excited to see the book come to life in the theaters, in my opinion, the book is always better than the movie and this one is outstanding. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman
Kept me up all night. Couldn’t put it down. Sequel?
Kept me up all night. Couldn’t put it down. Sequel?
Wow! A contemporary roller-coaster ride. You can just imagine it happening right here, right now. Compulsively readable!
Well thought out book. I couldn't put it down.
Great for a quick vacation read. Excellent
In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency—and to her family. What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie? Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight. After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened. Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust? ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As soon as I read the synopsis I knew I just had to read this and thanks to the publisher I got my wish! I was drawn into the book from the very first chapter, there is so much suspense, a great plot and fantastic writing. The book actually starts with a huge plot point and then the rest of the book focuses on the fallout of that event. The fact that Karen Cleveland actually worked for many years as a CIA analyst lends authenticity to the book that is usually notoriously absent in other fiction titles. The book centres around Vivian and her young family and the dilemma she faces that could change her and the kids' lives forever. The situation and the feelings surrounding the betrayal are something that no normal person could sweep under the carpet. You can really relate to what Vivian actually does and doesn't do during the book. I often find books featuring espionage go either one or two ways - either really tedious and like wading through mud in reading terms...or superb, authentic feeling and i am pleased to say this was the latter. It was such an edge of your seat thrill ride as you got twists and turns in each chapter. A lot of spy novels feature tonnes of characters that aren't developed in any way but this is the opposite of that - there are fewer characters making it easy to follow and you get to know a great deal about them, especially Matt and Viv(ian). An absolutely cracking debut novel. It's safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Need To Know and I look forward to reading more of Karen Cleveland's writing! I would like to thank Random House UK - Transworld/Karen Cleveland and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an impartial review.
Wow! Definitely the Russian got one point in this story. The conspiracy was well-planned and was laid out even before Vivian came into the picture. It was so well-planned that Vivian was actually targeted and how her career progressed was also part of the whole scheme. Incredible! I hate the guy. I can't say which guy is it because that will then unravel everything and would just spoil the story. But the guy that's very close to Vivian wasn't anything he was claiming to be. I am not even sure if he really loves Vivian. It was all part of the mission and Vivian helplessly feel into it. What she had to go through wasn't worth it just to protect that person she thought had her and their families best interest at heart. No. It was Mother Russia right from the start. I give the book 4.5/5 passports. This is like "How to be a Russian Sleeper agent in the US." With the author being a seasoned CIA analyst, she had made the story so believable and so engaging. My heart goes out to Vivian and I wanted to be her ally and help her see through all the deception and lies that was fed and being fed to her. It's like having a friend who's in an abusive relationship and you wanted to help that friend but the friend is bent on helping the other party rather than herself. She's being manipulated and you can't help but stand and watch because you've been told to stay out of it. This story is delicious yet leaves a bitter taste in you mouth because of the ending. It was another revelation on itself on top of all the lies and deception. What else is there? I think this story needs a sequel because I wanted to know who else is on the conspiracy. Who else was lied to and manipulated? Who else was used as scapegoat and how deep does this go? This story makes you think which do you value more--duty and love for your country or your love for you family? Both are the same it's love. But which love is greater that makes you want to defy everything else? Like knowing the bad news is better than knowing nothing at all. - Karen Cleveland, Need to Know - Thank again, Karen Cleveland and Netgalley for the copy.
You won't want to put it down!
Engrossing story, well written. The constant pull between protecting her children and keeping her family together, (and keeping her marriage to Matt) always outweighs Matt's betrayal and the truth. Time and time again, she takes the risks of choosing Matt over all else, despite making herself vulnerable and still putting her family in jeopardy. Her children are so important to her decisions, but so is Matt. Hard to believe she is such an important asset, that the Russians will pull out all stops to keep her. Maybe she suspects something is not right, but she still accepts that everyone around her is trustworthy. The twist at the end is just author's manipulation. It does not ring true. It presumes she has been surrounded her whole adult life (professional and personal) with people who have been using her. Peter her boss, Matt her husband and now Omar her colleague. And she can't make the connection. What will happen if she wakes up to the reality???????
Well written exciting fast read.
As a Political Science/Russian Studies double major who teaches history and government, this book was right up my alley. However, at first I almost threw it across the room when she didn't turn him in. This felt like all of the Cold War spy thrillers that I grew up loving but with the intimacy that is generally lacking in them. (However, it takes place modern day not during the Cold War.) Vivian is a CIA counterintelligence analyst and she is good at her job. She is also the mother to 4 children with her husband Matt. When she finds some information that could destroy her world she hides it. Thus beginning the thrilling ride that is Need to Know. I was angry at her, I felt for her, I was almost dizzy at times because the thrills kept coming at me so quickly. The characters were more well developed than many thrillers of the Cold War era and therefore it was even easier to be drawn into this. The plotting is fast paced and an absolute roller coaster. This thriller earned being among the best of the genre.
You might like this book if you're into pearl-clutching domestic soap operas, but if you're looking for an actual "spy" novel, keep looking. This ain't it. The protagonist -- if you want to call her that -- is a CIA intel analyst who happens to be unknowingly married to a Russian sleeper agent (not a spoiler, as this is all revealed in the first couple of chapters). He's her husband of ten years and the father of her four kids. So, once this is revealed, you'd think the door is open for a story of intrigue and excitement as she tries to resolve the inherent conflict... and you'd be wrong. Instead, we're subjected to what seems an endless litany of domestic crises involving sick kids, lovesick adults pledging undying love, and flashbacks to their courtship, marriage, etc. A whole lot of boring navel-gazing, with hardly any advancement of a discernible plot. I'll be honest; I couldn't even come close to finishing this borefest. After the first couple of chapters I started reading faster and faster, waiting fruitlessly for anything really interesting to happen, until I was speed-reading. I finally gave up about 120 pages in. I figured that if after a THIRD of the book nothing of interest was happening, why bother torturing myself any further? This book is the literary equivalent of a chick-flick. Ugh! A solid one star, fully earned.