American Spy

Mysterious Book Report No. 377

by John Dwaine McKenna

Near the end of the Cold War in the mid-1980s, the African continent was busy rediscovering itself.  Having thrown off the restraints of colonialism, countries large and small were struggling to determine what form of self-governance best suited them . . . a struggle that promoted much bloodshed.  Civil wars, coups and military takeovers were common, as was behind-the-scenes meddling by the world’s superpowers, who were eager to gain influence and easy access to the motherlodes of untapped natural resources the region had to offer.  It’s an epic awakening, and the setting for a searing new thriller by a much admired, talented and whip-smart debut novelist who’s on a fast train to stardom.

American Spy, (Random House, $27.99, 289 pages, ISBN 978-0-8129-9895-5) by Lauren Wilkerson, is an intelligent, complex, engaging, perceptive and chilling espionage novel that will, at times, make you think, make you uncomfortable, make you angry . . . and leave you squirming in place and wondering if you know anything, whatsoever, about another’s point-of-view.

It’s 1986 as the novel begins, and we meet a thirty year-old black woman named Marie Mitchell who’s an intelligence officer working for the FBI in New York City.  She’s smart, ambitious and frustrated.  Pushed aside and relegated to mundane, spirit-destroying, monotonous routine tasks by the “old boy” network she’s surrounded with, Marie is desperate for action of a more meaningful kind.  So when she’s offered a chance to join a shadowy covert task force that’s aimed at undermining the newly-formed government of Thomas Sankara, the charismatic—and communist—leader of Burkina Faso, (Formerly known as Upper Volta.  It’s at about 10 o’clock, if the African continent was a clock-face.) she jumps at the chance, even though she secretly admires what he’s doing for his country.

Marie Mitchell agrees to take the job . . . even though she’s a woman in conflict over the untimely and mysterious death of her only sister, as well as a nagging belief that she’s being used because of the color of her skin.  So begins a year of subversion, seduction, treachery, revolution and a re-examination of what it means to be an American, a spy, a paramour and a traitor to love—all at the same time.  Partially inspired by true events, American Spy is a powerful and compelling work set against the backdrop of the Cold War and the world’s wildest continent.  It’s the much talked about, highly-praised first novel of an emerging world-class talent who, no doubt, will have much more to say to all of us in the future!

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