Karen Cleveland – Need to Know Book Review

Perfect husband. Perfect father. Perfect liar?
Vivian Miller. High-powered CIA analyst, happily married to a man she adores, mother of four beautiful children. Until the moment she makes a shocking discovery that makes her question everything she believes.

She thought she knew her husband inside and out. But now she wonders if it was all a lie. How far will she go to learn the truth? And does she really… NEED TO KNOW?

Film rights sold to Universal Pictures for Charlize Theron • Rights sold in 30 markets

Read this book while on holiday abroad and I can say that it was an absolute thrill! Great spies think alike when you have this tale of betrayal, double-agents and sleepers in America.

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Author: Karen Cleveland
Original title: Need to know
Year of publication: 2018
Number of pages: 285

Karen Cleveland worked for eight years as a CIA analyst, and spent the last six years in the division against terrorism. She holds a Master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin. After that, she studied at Harvard.
“Need to Know” is an excellent book! Actually, I devoured it as fast as I could, I couldn’t let it out of my hand. It’s exactly the kind of book you want to explore and finish, you want to know what’s going on and you can’t stop reading. Even when I had to put the book down, my thoughts were still on the action, on the characters and I was trying to solve the mystery.
Vivian is a CIA analyst on the group trying to discover Russian “sleeper agents” in the United States. Vivian is very good at her job, and with the help of the “Athena” program, she seems closer and closer to discovering something of vital importance. At home, Viv is the happy wife of a perfect man and mother of four children – Luke, Ella, and the twins Chase and Caleb. Happiness and peace crumble on the day she manages to access the laptop of Iury, one of the Russian suspects. Inside his laptop, Viv discovers a folder called “Friends”, and in the folder are five pictures – apparently of the five sleeper agents all working for and reporting to Iury. The third picture is the one that throws Vivian’s entire existence out of balance: the picture shows Matt, her husband.

Her first impulse is to hide the picture so that no one can see it until she can find out whether it’s true. Vivian knows that there is only one right choice: to tell her boss what she has
discovered. But that would mean denouncing her own husband and imprisoning him in a federal prison. Her job would also be at risk as she has been living with this man and who knows what secrets she might have told him – even inadvertently. But the more important question is: how and why did Matt’s picture end up in Iury’s laptop?

Could it be a simple mistake, or is he just a Russian blackmail target? Viv puts all her trust in her husband but to her disappointment, instead of denying that it had anything to do with
the Russians, Matt reveals his true identity and tells her everything about himself and his Russian past. Aleksandr Lenkov is his name and treason is his game. Vivian realizes that she has no choice but to denounce her husband.

When he goes back to work, Vivian does exactly what she didn’t think she could: she tries to erase the evidence she found in order to save her husband and keep her whole family unit intact. But by doing so, she actually manages to incriminate herself as a potential threat to national security as her login details and her actions are logged.

By giving up the idea of ​​coming clean and denouncing Matt, Vivian fell right into the hands of the Russians, who are now blackmailing her. Their goal was to have a CIA agent do all of their dirty work – erasing any trace of the sleeper agents from the CIA database.

The whole novel shows the moments of discovering the truth about Matt and trying to find a solution to help Vivian stay within her family unit. By doubting her husband, she begins to doubt their get-together story, their good times, their promises and vows, wedding, honeymoon, every pregnancy. She’s shocked to find that her distant in-laws were also Russian agents. Her wedding guests were Russian agents too!

If you like thrillers you will love this book from cover to cover.


Karen Cleveland is a former CIA analyst. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin (international peace studies) and Harvard University (public policy). Cleveland lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young sons. This is her first novel.

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