Who Is Vera Kelly?
Winner of the 2021 Edgar Award – G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards
An NPR Best Book of the Year
“Gripping, subtle, magnificently written.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A delectable page-turner . . . Vera Kelly introduces a fascinating new spy to literature’s mystery canon—one we hope sticks around long beyond this snappy, intimate debut.” —Entertainment Weekly
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.
Next thing she knows she’s in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. 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 the Cold War makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she’s forced to take extreme measures to save herself.
An exhilarating page-turner and perceptive coming-of-age story, Who Is Vera Kelly? introduces an original, wry, and whip-smart female spy for the twenty-first century.
Gripping, subtle, magnificently written . . . This is a cool, strolling boulevardier of a book, worldly, wry, unrushed but never slow, which casts its gaze upon the middle of the last century and forces us to consider how it might be failing us still.
—The New York Times Book Review
Knecht’s novel is a slow-burn espionage thriller, a complex treatment of queer identity, and an immersive period piece all rolled into one delectable page-turner . . . Vera Kelly introduces a fascinating new spy to literature’s mystery canon—one we hope sticks around long beyond this snappy, intimate debut.
The personal is most definitely political in Rosalie Knecht’s crisp, lively and subversive second novel, Who Is Vera Kelly? . . . 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.
Thanks to Rosalie Knecht’s clever, hilarious writing, you’ll find yourself wanting everyone you know to read it so that you can discuss together the wholly original, brilliantly subversive character that is Vera Kelly.
A splendid genre-pushing thriller . . . A fractured coming-out in the repressive ’50s primed Vera for a life of deception—but in Knecht’s expert hands she’s smart and complicated, yearning for connection in a tumultuous world.
Forget about 007. This heroine has her own brand of spycraft. . . . Given the current popularity of ‘women-in-trouble’ psychological suspense tales, where much of the action takes place in the heroine’s anxious mind, it’s refreshing to read a novel where a capable young woman not only knows how to fix an electrical short in a transformer, but also how to maneuver around the homophobic biases of her own era.
—The Washington Post
A refreshing and idiosyncratic Cold War spy novel.
The character readers have been waiting for. A riveting, satisfying novel.
A buzzing, smoky, gin-soaked charmer.
—Library Journal, Hot Picks
When we first meet Vera Kelly, she’s a troubled 1950s teenager who’s overdosed on Equanil. Next she’s in explosive 1960s Buenos Aires after being recruited by the CIA (“I could be charming if I wanted to. There were basic tricks”). . . . All the edgy fun of classic noir but in an original voice that’s fresh, brisk, and snappy. Hugely buzzing.
—Library Journal, Most Anticipated Books of Spring/Summer
Who Is Vera Kelly? is the twisty, literary, woman-driven spy novel you’ve always wanted to read. Vera Kelly hopscotches from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires, fueled by gin and cigarettes, on the run from her past and equipped with a case of listening devices. But this is no ordinary adventure novel: Rosalie Knecht is a sensitive and gifted writer with a lyrical voice that imbues this dazzling novel unexpected emotional depth.
—Amy Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of GIRL WAITS WITH GUN
In Who Is Vera Kelly?, Rosalie Knecht has created a truly fresh and original take on the spy novel, full of suspense and surprise and beautifully observed details of its cold war setting. Best of all is Vera herself, a memorable heroine who seems destined to become an icon of the genre. This is a remarkable and wonderful book!
—Dan Chaon, New York Times bestselling author of ILL WILL
Sardonic, intelligent, and thrillingly original, Rosalie Knecht has not only revitalized the female spy novel with her feisty, indeterminable heroine, she’s also joyfully queered it. I loved this book and I loved Vera. Read this book right now!”
—Courtney Maum, author of I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU
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.
A tangled, atmospheric story that gradually builds suspense to a satisfyingly surprising denouement.
Rosalie Knecht performs the seemingly effortless sleight of hand you’d expect from any talented spy . . . . The book proves to be both smart and surprising at every twist.
One thing Vera Kelly is not is a standard-issue spy. . . . Knecht has written a hybrid novel that is both literary in its attention to character and language, and a thriller where Vera’s status as a spy makes her a hunted woman who will have to find a way to survive. This intelligent novel about the quest for secret intelligence is a real treat.
The lesbian spy novel of your dreams.
One of this summer’s biggest treats for readers. It’s a marvelous combination of a spy thriller, a mystery story, and a historical novel that puts a female twist the genre. Move aside, James Bond.
There’s political intrigue, spycraft, solid location work, and all the things you would want from espionage fiction, but there’s also something strange and subversive going on in this story. Knecht has a livewire intellect and I hope she sticks with spy fiction of some kind of another, because this is just the kind of jolt the genre (my beloved genre) needs now and again.
When it comes to women spies, the question is no longer, ‘Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?’ It is, ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’
Traveling back almost 60 years to Argentina, here’s a look at a moment in history not often discussed. . . . Kelly is a great addition to a genre that has mostly been straight men.