Black Wolf, by Kathleen Kent
A dazzling new spy thriller about a female CIA agent whose extraordinary powers lead her into the dangerous heart of the collapsing Soviet Union – and the path of a killer that shouldn't exist.
Minsk, 1990. The Soviet Union is crumbling. The scavengers and predators are gathering, eager to pick the meat off the bones of a dying empire.
THE SPY: Melvina Donleavy is part of a US trade delegation... and on her first undercover mission with the CIA. Mel has a secret skill: she is a 'super recognizer', someone who never forgets a face. She is the CIA's early warning system, on watch for hostile agents trying to extract fissionable materials from the moribund USSR.
THE SERIAL KILLER: On the streets of Minsk, women are being strangled. Many more have disappeared. The Soviet Union is not a gentle place for women and too many men are capable of such violence, but the truth is worse: just one man is responsible. Worse still, the authorities will never admit to his existence – serial killers, after all, are a symptom of capitalist decadence. And now he has a new target...
THE SPY HUNTER: Chairman of the BSSR's KGB, recipient of the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, the Order of Lenin, the Medal for Valour, the Order of the Patriotic War and the Order of the Red Star. They say you never hear his footsteps until he's carrying your coffin. And now he has a new target...
The Cold War may be coming to a close, but Mel is in danger of being obliterated by its fallout. Whichever way she turns, the wolves are gathering.
My Review (4.25 out of 5 )
Black Wolf is the new spy thriller proposal by Kathleen Kent. With an excellent atmosphere, and solid historical research (with the appropriate licenses), we follow Mel, an undercover CIA agent, on a mission in 1990 Belarus that gets mixed with the mysterious crimes of a serial killer in Minsk.
The story takes place in the Soviet Union in the year 1990, a place that by itself is super interesting, especially when we see how accurate the author has been to the historical circumstances. Close to its dissolution, with the fear after Chernobyl still fresh, Minsk is a place where distrust and paranoia are a common coin. Different nations are trying to get control over the remaining nuclear intelligence.
And in this situation, Melvina Donleavy, a CIA agent with the ability to remember each face she meets, is sent with a crucial mission: stopping those nuclear secrets from exiting the country and falling into the hands of other nations, namely Iran. During the stance of Minsk, Mel attracts the attention of two really different characters that will shape how the story develops: Martin Kavalchuk, the Black Wolf of the KGB, and Katya, a secretary that will make aware Mel of the existence of Svisloch Strangler, a possible serial killer.
Most of the novel will be narrated from the perspective of Mel, who is a well-developed character, with her own problems and virtues. Being able to remember each face she meets makes her a perfect spy for this kind of mission, but this also requires an extra layer of work for herself.
Some chapters are narrated from the POV of the strangler, adding more complexity and helping to grow the intrigue; never letting you know his real identity until the final chapters.
The pacing is excellent, despite being a little bit denser than the usual spy stories. Once the story explodes and starts going on, after presenting the characters and giving their motivations, it doesn't stop until the very end, keeping you in tension.
Black Wolf is an excellent spy-thriller, that will be loved by those that also loved to read Tom Clancy's stories. Personally, the aspects I enjoyed more were the historical accuracy and how well the atmosphere of 1990's Minsk is built, transmitting perfectly the paranoia and fear that accompanied the decomposition of the Soviet Union.
Kathleen Kent is a New York Times bestselling author and a two-time Edgar Award Nominee for her contemporary crime novels, The Dime and The Burn. The Washington Post writes of the series, “Raymond Chandler praised Dashiell Hammett for taking crime fiction out of the drawing room and into the streets. With Betty Rhyzyk, Kathleen Kent brings those mean streets to life as excitingly as anybody has in years.” The third Det. Betty book, titled The Pledge, was published in 2021. Ms. Kent is also the author of three award-winning historical novels, The Heretic’s Daughter, The Traitor’s Wife, and The Outcasts. She has written short stories and essays for D Magazine, Texas Monthly and LitHub, and has been published in the crime anthology Dallas Noir. In March 2020 she was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for her contribution to Texas literature.