Knecht’s solid second novel (following The Relief Map) opens in 1966, when 25-year-old Vera Kelly is sent to Buenos Aires by the CIA to infiltrate a rumored KGB cell, gladly leaving behind her life in New York. Ever since a falling-out with her abusive mother as a teenager, Vera’s life consists of her work at a radio station and her occasional discreet trips to underground lesbian bars in Greenwich Village. But in Buenos Aires, Vera learns to lead a spy’s double life. Vera’s observations of the politically charged city are straightforward and sharp: “Bars where students liked to go were nearly empty. Plainclothes police lounged conspicuously in the windows.” As Vera consorts undercover with the radical students assumed to be in touch with the Soviets, a military coup and a personal betrayal threaten her work, leaving her with the new task of trying to make it out of Argentina alive. While Vera is a charming narrator, especially among the ranks of spy thriller leads, her work among the radicals is never as gripping as it should be, nor are the flashbacks following her trajectory from reckless teenager to CIA operative. Still, with some suspension of disbelief, this is a promising subversion of the classic espionage novel, one which would lend itself well to a sequel or series to come. (June)
A tangled, atmospheric story that gradually builds suspense to a satisfyingly surprising denouement.
One thing Vera Kelly is not is a standard-issue spy. . . . Knecht has written a hybrid novel that is both literary in its attention to character and language, and a thriller where Vera’s status as a spy makes her a hunted woman who will have to find a way to survive. This intelligent novel about the quest for secret intelligence is a real treat.
Who Is Vera Kelly?is the twisty, literary, woman-driven spy novel you've always wanted to read. Vera Kelly hopscotches from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires, fueled by gin and cigarettes, on the run from her past and equipped with a case of listening devices. But this is no ordinary adventure novel: Rosalie Knecht is a sensitive and gifted writer with a lyrical voice that imbues this dazzling novel unexpected emotional depth.
Who Is Vera Kelly?, Rosalie Knecht has created a truly fresh and original take on the spy novel, full of suspense and surprise and beautifully observed details of its cold war setting. Best of all is Vera herself, a memorable heroine who seems destined to become an icon of the genre. This is a remarkable and wonderful book!
Sardonic, intelligent, and thrillingly original, Rosalie Knecht has not only revitalized the female spy novel with her feisty, indeterminable heroine, she’s also joyfully queered it. I loved this book and I loved Vera. Read this book right now!"
Gripping, subtle, magnificently written . . . This is a cool, strolling boulevardier of a book, worldly, wry, unrushed but never slow, which casts its gaze upon the middle of the last century and forces us to consider how it might be failing us still.
The New York Times Book Review
Thanks to Rosalie Knecht's clever, hilarious writing, you'll find yourself wanting everyone you know to read it so that you can discuss together the wholly original, brilliantly subversive character that is Vera Kelly.
A coming-of-age tale and slick espionage adventure . . .This juicy queer spy novel doesn’t disappoint.
Knecht’s novel is a slow-burn espionage thriller, a complex treatment of queer identity, and an immersive period piece all rolled into one delectable page-turner . . .
Vera Kelly introduces a fascinating new spy to literature’s mystery canonone we hope sticks around long beyond this snappy, intimate debut.
One of this summer's biggest treats for readers.It's a marvelous combination of a spy thriller, a mystery story, and a historical novel that puts a female twist the genre. Move aside, James Bond.
There’s political intrigue, spycraft, solid location work, and all the things you would want from espionage fiction, but there’s also something strange and subversive going on in this story. Knecht has a livewire intellect and I hope she sticks with spy fiction of some kind of another, because this is just the kind of jolt the genre (my beloved genre) needs now and again.
When it comes to women spies, the question is no longer, ‘Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?’ It is, ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’
The personal is most definitely political in Rosalie Knecht's crisp, lively and subversive second novel,
Who Is Vera Kelly?. . . John le Carré and many other writers make hay with the personal repercussions of assuming false identity. Knecht flips the terms artfully, showing us a heroine who discovers her true tough self by going undercover.
A splendid genre-pushing thriller . . . A fractured coming-out in the repressive '50s primed Vera for a life of deceptionbut in Knecht's expert hands she's smart and complicated, yearning for connection in a tumultuous world.
Forget about 007. This heroine has her own brand of spycraft. . . . Given the current popularity of ‘women-in-trouble’ psychological suspense tales, where much of the action takes place in the heroine’s anxious mind, it’s refreshing to read a novel where a capable young woman not only knows how to fix an electrical short in a transformer, but also how to maneuver around the homophobic biases of her own era.
I found myself drawn to the bildungsroman folded into the spy novel. Balancing those two elements in alternating chapters that read like Vera’s diary entries, Knecht imbues the novel with emotional depth that allows for meditation on human connection.
Rosalie Knecht performs the seemingly effortless sleight of hand you’d expect from any talented spy . .. . The book proves to be both smart and surprising at every twist.
The lesbian spy novel of your dreams.
A refreshing and idiosyncratic Cold War spy novel.
A young undercover spy is forced to improvise after her handler goes dark during the Argentinian coup in 1966.In 1957, Vera Kelly is a suicidal teenage girl living in Chevy Chase, Maryland, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; she's sent to juvenile detention after multiple conflicts with her mother. Less than a decade later, she's a 25-year-old CIA agent skilled in electronics, embedded in Buenos Aires during the Cold War. Going undercover as a Canadian student, Kelly befriends a group of young scholars suspected of being KGB agents; she surveils their activities during the day and spends her nights transcribing conversations from inside the Argentinian vice president's office, which is bugged. As the president's tentative grasp on power weakens, Vera makes plans to leave the country as soon as the army takes control of the government. The borders close more quickly than expected, however, and she's forced to go into hiding and hope her cover hasn't been blown. In this novel, a coming-of-age story meets spy thriller, Knecht (Relief Map, 2016) deftly explores how Vera's alienation from her mother and various romantic partners leads to her becoming a CIA recruit and how her self-confidence continues to be both challenged and reaffirmed in Argentina. Knecht's crisp prose moves swiftly as Vera tails suspects and also accommodates moments of increasing self-awareness: "As Gerry had said, if things went bad, I could be killed. And yet, in the place where my fear should have been, there was a blank space. I felt that I had been living for a long time in a place beyond fear, where my life was contingent and didn't amount to much anyway." Throughout the novel, Vera wonders who she will be should she survive this assignment, but even in her deep uncertainty, it's quite clear that she is already the character readers have been waiting for.A riveting, satisfying novel.