Coming-of-age Spy Story: Who is Vera Kelly?

The book is more character study than anything else, and though I don’t always enjoys those sorts of books, I did this one.


  • Enjoy character-driven books
  • Like South American settings
  • Enjoy coming-of-age stories
  • Are in the mood for a spy story, with more story than spy

TitleWho is Vera Kelly? | AuthorRosalie Knecht | Rating: 3/5

New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She’s working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA.

When I picked up this book, I did so because of the chance of reading about a female spy. And though the book ended up being less spy and more character, I enjoyed it. It was a coming-of-age story like I’d never read before, where the main character is a female CIA spy, living and working in Argentina during a coup.

Next thing she knows she’s in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires.

There’s the obligatory betrayal which ended up being less cliche and surprising. I was hoping the betrayal wouldn’t come from the person it came from, and it was all the more bitter as I was proven wrong.

As Vera becomes more and more enmeshed with the young radicals, the fragile local government begins to split at the seams. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of a coup, Vera learns war makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she’s forced to take extreme measures to save herself.

Vera started off cold and distant to me: not in a calculated way, but more in a rational way. She’s figuring herself out, including realizing she prefers the company of woman, rather than men. This is in the late ’50s. She seems smart, but bored, and so doesn’t realize her full academic potential. Still, she’s eventually scouted by the CIA, ends up living more than I think she ever expected.

And there’s something to her: a sort of matter-of-factness that I appreciated.

The book is more character study than anything else, and though I don’t always enjoys those sorts of books, I did this one.

I did expect more of the spy elements, including tactics and techniques, and was disappointed those weren’t featured much in the story. And Vera’s assignment: figuring out who of those among her were KGB, was integral, and yet peripheral, to the plot. It forced the story along and forced Vera’s hand into action, but it wasn’t the only driving force.

All in all, a decent read and unique (to me) character study.

*Originally published on Reading Between the Dunes March 30, 2020

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