MINM Review: Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

Espionage spy fiction meets domestic suspense in former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland's debut crime novel! Published in over twenty languages, and optioned for the screen by Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron to develop, produce, and star in the adaptation, Need to Know is a story of how one choice can have a devastating ripple effect. Ms. Cleveland's book asks two crucial questions of the reader: first, if faced with the choice between loyalty to country, or personal loyalty, which would you choose? And second, would your patriotism be great enough to risk any potential consequences to yourself, or to your loved ones?

The main character of Need to Know is Vivian Miller, a counterintelligence analyst for the CIA. On the hunt for a network of covert operatives working for the Government of the Russian Federation, and referred to by US intelligence as "sleepers", Vivian has developed a methodology for identifying potential agents and their handlers. When we first meet Vivian, she and her FBI counterpart are very close to uncovering information about a highly sensitive, deep cover, Russian sleeper cell in the US.

Need to Know is told mainly in the dual timelines of the present, as well as in Vivian's flashbacks of the earlier days of her courtship and marriage with her husband, Matt. Now, with four kids in the present, three of whom are in private preschool, the eldest in a top-notch public school, finances are very tight for the couple. Vivian has been torn between wanting to care for her young children full-time, and loving her career, as well as the practical need for her CIA salary and accompanying health care benefits. While it was wonderful to read about a father so actively helpful in the care of his children, and the devotion of The Millers to their kids is a critical part of the plot, readers looking for a full-throttled, geopolitical, espionage thriller in the vein of Frederick Forsyth or Daniel Silva may find that there is way too much emphasis on the first person point of view of a not particularly kick-butt wife and mother, and her struggles around juggling career and parenthood. Other readers, on the other hand, may appreciate the exploration of these very real challenges.

Need to Know does have some very foreboding and suspenseful moments, as well as some unsettling twists and turns, including at the very end, that the reader will likely not see coming. Ms. Cleveland's novel is a great choice for readers looking for an introduction to the world of professional, intelligence tradecraft, or for those who wish to dip their toes into the espionage and spy thriller sub-genre of crime and mystery fiction.


Need To Know by Karen Cleveland book cover image.jpg

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who are interested in dipping their toes into the espionage and spy thriller sub-genre.
  • Who are interested in learning a bit about government counterintelligence.
  • Who enjoy domestic suspense, and reading about the psychology of interpersonal relationships.
  • Who appreciate stories that address the challenges of balancing career and parenting, especially as it pertains to women. Vivian is a smart CIA analyst, but there will be readers who wish she was even smarter and stronger than she is portrayed in the novel.
  • Who don't mind suspending a bit of disbelief.

Pages: 336 pages (Paperback)

Hours: 9 Hrs. 39 Mins. (Audio Book)


What others have said about Need to Know

"Terrific."--John Grisham
"Superb."--Lee Child
"Breathtaking, heart-pounding."--Louise Penny
"A fast-paced, relentlessly gripping read."--Chris Pavone

"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


MINM Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars


Have you read Need to Know by Karen Cleveland? Are you looking forward to the screen adaptation of the novel? Mystery in Minutes would love to hear from you in the comments below!