The author has sly, intelligent fun with the idea that the mindset necessary to live as a closeted queer woman transfers seamlessly to high-stakes espionage work; a spy and a not-yet-out lesbian are both undercover, in a sense—both are accustomed to subverting identity, using coded language, and seeking out covert action ... The book smartly juxtaposes Vera's rocky coming of age with her espionage adventures. It could come off as contrived and heavy-handed, but Knecht makes it work ... 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. By the end of Who is Vera Kelly? the reader is rooting for Vera to claim her much deserved personal freedom as much as succeed as a spy.
The book reads like the love child of John le Carré and Rita Mae Brown. I loved Vera immensely, even more so as the plot progressed and the threats became deadlier. What a fun read and what a terrific character! I can’t wait for the next installment.
The distance between Vera’s backstory and her mission in Argentina sets Knecht’s novel apart, making it more than just a suspense-driven romp of Cold War covert ops. Vera is no James Bond, with his glamour and gadgets, nor is she the anti-James Bond, John le Carré’s George Smiley, the bland, bespectacled, and balding expert in tradecraft. Vera is a deeply lonely lesbian living in a time of vice squads, and her history is as crucial to the plot as any suspicious man in a trench coat ... What kept me turning the pages in Who is Vera Kelly was not so much a desire to find out what Vera’s spying would reveal about Román’s plotting and its relationship to the coup. Instead, 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 and the ties that bind us to life’s worth.