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Book Talk: Can’t put her books down

If you pick up any one of Karen Cleveland’s books, put on a large pot of coffee because you won’t be able to put it down. After I read her first book “Need to Know,” and discovered that she’d written another, I said to myself, “How is she going to top herself?”

The answer, I learned, is that she doesn’t have to. I’d put Ms. Cleveland up against any of the most popular fiction writers today. Universal Studios has purchased the rights to “Need to Know,” and actress Charlize Theron will play Vivian, Cleveland’s protagonist.

Vivian is a CIA analyst on the Russia desk. She’s tasked with uncovering Russian sleeper cells. One day, five photographs cross her desk, and one of them is a shot of her husband, Matt, whom she loves. He’s the father of their four children and an ideal spouse. Should she turn him in?

The story is fast-paced without missing any of the nuances of the internal workings of the U.S. intelligence agency. That’s because Cleveland was a CIA analyst for eight years, six of which were in counter-terrorism.

Ms. Cleveland followed this thriller with “Keep You Close,” another nail biter. Stephanie Maddox’s job at the FBI is in the Internal Investigations Division. It’s perfect for her because, as she says, “It was the idea of the law that I loved. Rules that everyone had to follow. Consequences for breaking them. The law was black-and-white. It was fair.”

At home, she’s a single mom, devoted to her only child, a teenaged son, Zachery. While cleaning his room, she finds a loaded gun. Then her former boyfriend, an FBI agent tells her that Zach has shown up on a list of anarchists. The situation develops to the point where Steph has to decide where her loyalty lies: with her son or with her country.

About a month ago, I received Cleveland’s newest tome, “You Can Run,” and I couldn’t wait to start reading. I had pre-ordered it the minute I learned the date of publication.

In this one, Jill Bailey is a CIA analyst who watches her six-month-old child Owen on a monitor while he’s at daycare. Except, one day he’s just not there. Within minutes, she gets a phone call: “We have your son.” This happens within the first five pages, and that should give you an idea of the pace of the plot.

Jill learns that to get her son back, she must vet a potential CIA source called Falcon. After complying, she recovers her son, quits her job, and moves to Florida with her son and husband where she has a second child. There she meets reporter Alexandra, who is pursuing a story that can expose her and endanger her whole family.

Each book is electrifying. All three works feature strong, resilient women who are caught up in impossible situations. And Cleveland does a masterful job of handling the prose. Enjoy.

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Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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