4 stars out of 5
In 2015, one of the 123 books I read was Mrs. John Doe, the first in a series featuring Nora Baron, wife of CIA operative Jeff Baron, actress and drama teacher at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y. (where, for the record, our son earned his master's degree). I enjoyed that one, so when I got the chance to request an advance review copy of this second installment, I didn't hesitate for a second.
Nora's actions in that first adventure apparently impressed her husband's boss at the CIA so much that he picked her to lead the mission here. That seemed a bit of a stretch - I've heard how insular those CIA folks are, after all - until I learned that this job would require Nora to pose as a TV news host. All rightee then, I said - she may not have a lot of journalistic chops, but she certainly should be a shoe-in for portraying her assigned character.
The script goes something like this: A beautiful and talented Russian theater star, Galina Rostova, has contacted the CIA to seek asylum in the United States in exchange for information she claims is critical to U.S. security. Getting her to the States, though, won't be a walk in Central Park; Nora and her team must travel to Venice - where Galina is starring in a stage production of Chekhov's The Seagull - ostensibly to do a profile of the actress. At some point during the fake interviews, Galina is to be whisked away to a plane that will take her to freedom - far from the Russian general (and lover) she insists is a dangerous man who will stop at nothing to stop her from leaving him.
Not surprisingly, that old best-laid plans thing rears its head early on, most notably in the form of a snowstorm that effectively shuts down the entire city, its airport and waterways - and nearly drops the curtain on the escape plan. Meanwhile, Russian agents, who possibly suspect that a defection is in the works, begin to pop up stage right and left and anywhere else they're not wanted. Even though he's working primarily behind the scenes, Nora's husband Jeff gets involved as well, taking cues from his wife and doing what he can to keep Galina and everyone on the CIA team alive and the mission on pace.
All of that is complicated by a few twists that suggest some of the situations may not be as described and characters not as honest as they claim, so it's touch-and-go as to who will make it to the final bows. I'll never tell, though, so you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself.
The Woman Who Knew Too Much by Tom Savage (Alibi, March 2017); 242 pp.