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Black Wolf

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This story is set in 1990 and is a classic spy thriller at least for me. Mel the female CIA agent is sent in with others but they are not told why she is there or her special gift of remembering faces. Set in Minsk there are so many different threats from other countries along with a serial killer but most of all she has caught the eye of a Russian spy who goes by the Black Wolf. here the story picks and not just here but the entire story will keep you glued to these pages if these are the types of books you like this book. Good characters, good pacing, and overall just a very good story.

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Intense spy thriller set near the end of the cold war. A team of American CIA agents are sent to Belorussia to determine if there are nuclear threats with the Energy Ministry working with Iran on standing up a nuclear program and capabilities. It is a classic spy story where it is hard to know who to trust. I quite enjoyed the book and am thankful to the publisher and NetGalley for granting me an advance copy in exchange for my throughts and opinions.

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Black Wolf - Kathleen Kent

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this eARC.

An exciting thriller that offers something for everyone - this novel is an intelligent international spy thriller, an anti-nuclear testing treatise, and a police procedural.

I loved it, this author is a great writer, however this time this imaginative thriller brings her skills up a notch.

Until next time...

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This was my first novel by author Kathleen Kent. The author did a great job of writing a fast paced action filled spy thriller with a foot chase through the woods and heart pounding interrogations by KGB officials. The book also included a unique twist to the story by adding a serial killer element that had me guessing the true identity of the killer.

Amazon Book Description: It is 1990 when Melvina Donleavy arrives in Soviet Belarus on her first undercover mission with the CIA, alongside three fellow agents—none of whom know she is playing two roles. To the prying eyes of the KGB, she is merely a secretary; to her CIA minders, she is the only one who can stop the flow of nuclear weapons from the crumbling Soviet Union into the Middle East.

This riveting spy thriller was a work of fiction but based on true events that the author experienced while working for the U. S. Government. I admire and appreciate the people who work for their country to protect the American people and I especially love reading about it in books.

I received an electronic advanced copy (eARC) from publisher Mulholland books and Netgalley. Thank you for the opportunity to preview this book.

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Love, love love this book. Serial killer meets CIA agent Melvina in Russia, while she is there working. A person who could remember every face she comes in contact with
Timely novel right now, with Russia, and Iran. And Iran trying to build the nuclear bomb.
I only hope that this author will continue with Melvina, in another book. I will also be looking at this authors other books.

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Thank you to the author, publisher and Net Galley for the ARC for this book. I had never read anything by this author, but from the get-go I found myself fully immersed within the story of Mel and her CIA cohorts. I was riveted by the suspense and found myself finishing the book in a day and a half. One of the things that I enjoyed the most with this book was that the protagonist was not a super soldier or super spy, but excelled at her job because of a unique gift she was born with. Further, with the ending of the book, I am intrigued by the possibility that the adventures of Mel Donleavy will continue. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by this author. 5-stars for me!!!

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This new spy thriller by a DOD insider is riveting and scary. Mel Donleavy is sent to Minsk with three other CIA agents. The US is desperate to ensure that the nuclear weapons controlled by this failing Soviet satellite do not fall into the wrong hands. But Minsk is also the hunting ground of a serial killer, and he has his eye on Mel. In the end, she must decide who she can trust — her life depends on it.

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I tried to like this book. I really did. But by 20 minutes into what was supposed to be an espionage thriller with some serial killer elements thrown in, I was bored out of my mind.

And the real story hadn’t even begun yet. Our protagonist, for lack of a better way to sum it up, hadn’t even accepted the call to adventure. More time in that 20% of story was spent describing how cold Belarus is than on the story itself.

We get it. Belarus is really cold.

This book is scattered, with no real through line and no steady story arc to hold the entire thing together. It’s like a whole bunch of really good thoughts that really needed a competent, solid editor to put their foot down and demand everything be brought together into something more cohesive. The book, as it exists, is like a tangled head of hair that needs to be brushed.

I just don’t understand how you can take this concept and make it so bland and, well, lost. I’m actually a little mad Kathleen Kent took such potential and wasted it.

I was provided a copy of this book by NetGalley and the author. All thoughts, views, and opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone. Thank you. Owing to the 3 star or under rating, this review will not appear on any social media or bookseller website.

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Kathleen Kent's Black Wolf is a cold war era thriller about a young woman with an extraordinary ability to never forget a face once she's seen it. The story is set in its entirety in Belarus aka Byelorussia in 1990. August, 1990, Minsk, a four person team from the CIA led by Dan Hatton, Julie Reznik, Ben Franklin, and Melvina Donleavy has been sent to the country as representatives of the State Department to see what kind of financial incentives the US can offer the soon to be independent of the soon to be former Soviet Union to prevent uranium from falling into the wrong hands.

Melvina has a secret she can't share with anyone. Trained by the FBI, recruited by the CIA, she's deep undercover by orders of the CIA's Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations. This is her first mission. Why was she sent along with Dan's team? She's supposed to be an observer only. She is under no obligation to tell her team what her real purpose here is. Because of her unique abilities, her task is to prevent weapons grade uranium or any nuclear weaponry from leaving the Soviet Union and falling into the wrong hands, specifically those of Iran who would love to have a nuclear bomb of their own.

If the Russians find out about Melvina, she would likely disappear into Russia's psy-op program forever. Melvina must also keep her head on a swivel because she can't afford to be caught by the legendary Spy Hunter known as the Black Wolf aka Martin Kavalchuk who focuses on Melvina after several women she came in contact with were found murdered. She soon finds herself targeted by a dangerous serial killer who has been targeting women for the past 3 years. Nobody, including the legendary Black Wolf, has any idea who the killer is.

As the mission progresses, with a little help from Dr. William Cutler, Melvina and her team must weave an intricate path through a country that is still processing what happened during World War II, as well as the Chernobyl explosion that destroyed much of their crops. They also have to deal with a very active KGB that is listening in on every conversation and watching their every move. I am not a newbie when it comes to Kent's writing. She's has done a masterful job of blending fact and fiction, creating the stage in a historic place and that is to be expected from her former life.

In the authors own words:

"Black Wolf is based loosely on the author working as a civilian contractor to the Department of Defense in Belarus and Kazakhstan in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union was in chaos after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the U.S. government was very concerned about the more than 10,000 nuclear weapons and tons of chemical and biological weapons poorly stockpiled and carelessly guarded as the republics split apart. Many of the characters in the novel are composites of real people — the Bratva (mafia), the KGB, the sex workers, scientists and apparatchiks — whose paths I crossed, and who left a lasting impression on me."

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Black Wolf by Kathleen Kent
February 20, 2023
One of my favorite mystery/thriller sub-genres is espionage novels. Perhaps that is why I was so looking forward to Kathleen Kent’s latest novel, Black Wolf. Kent has written three novels I have enjoyed about a Dallas detective, starting with The Dime. I had every reason to believe that Kent would approach espionage thrillers as she did mysteries. With serious prose and written with accurate detail.

Black Wolf is disappointing in that it is almost ridiculously plotted while the characters are stilted, and at times, simply silly. This novel reminds me of Helen MacInnes’ novels — and I used to love those “foreign affair” novels with romance and accidental spies running around Europe. But MacInnes wrote in the 1940s through the 1970s, and I believe that espionage novels have undergone a tremendous quality upswing since then. And certainly female characters are no longer incompetent and horrible at spy craft.

Black Wolf does take place in the 1990s and not in 2023, but if the reader is to be brought back in time in a story, stereotypes about women should not shine throughout the book — regardless of setting. Our heroine, Melvina, is a CIA agent who along with three CIA agents goes to Belarus under cover to gather intelligence about which other foreign governments are interested in the newly independent country’s nuclear plans. And there is a serial killer on the loose. And the lead KGB officer takes an odd interest in Melvina…

Though a professional CIA agent who was an FBI agent as well, Melvina often feels lightheaded when a certain handsome soldier comes into the room — to the point that she messes up her mission because she can’t stop thinking of his body. She does outrageously risky actions to gain intelligence without fear of being caught, but she and the other agents get drunk quite often putting their cover story at risk numerous times. At one point Melvina says she knows of a mixture which stops dogs from being able to track humans when spread around them on the ground. Without any other information but Melvina’s word, the CIA agents head into danger, try this mixture on dogs on their trail and surprise (!), it fails.

Over and over as I read, I was brought out of the novel to think that this or that plot twist was silly. That the characters were not acting professionally. At one point Melvina writes a safe house address on her hand in ink as she sets out on a mission. And surprise (!) when she is caught, she immediately reveals her mission to her captor. If I had wanted to read Helen MacInnes again, I think I would be able to forgive her the high school romance plot lines and the sexist need for a man to come save the inexperienced woman. But I cannot forgive Kent in 2023. My rating: 2 of 5

This ARC title was provided by at no cost, and I am providing an unbiased review. Black Wolf was published on February 14, 2023.

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For a young American operative in the crumbling Soviet Union, being uncovered by the KGB isn’t the only thing to fear.

It’s 1990, and novice CIA agent Melvina Donleavy has been sent to Byelorussia (Belarus) with three other agents, ostensibly to determine if the US can safely provide the fledgling government there with aid. In fact, Mel has a second, more important, mission of which even the other three agents are unaware. There is concern that certain Iranian scientists have travelled to Byelorussia to purchase nuclear material for their program at home. At this point in history, a great deal of such material is floating around and being sold to the highest bidder. It is not in the interest of the US for Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal, but there has been no proof that the Iranian scientists are in fact in the country….only rumors. And that is why Mel is there….she possesses a skill so rare that only a few hundred people in the world possess it…once she sees a face once, she will recognize it again, even if the person has aged, had surgical alterations, or is otherwise disguised. If she sees the rogue Iranian scientists, she will be able to identify them with complete certainty to her handlers, and they will have the proof they need to stop the transaction.
Mel has undergone standard CIA training, but nothing could prepare her for the scrutiny under which she will be living in Minsk. Fellow agent Ben is quick to sense that she is hiding something from the team, and team leader Dan and linguist Julie are suspicious as well. They are all watched around the clock by the KGB, with hotel staff tracking their comings and goings, their rooms wired for sound and peered into via two way mirrors, and escorts who take them to and from all destinations. Their local contact William is an expat who is supposedly working for the US but has very close relationships with the Byealarussian communist government, most troublingly with local KGB head Martin Kavalchuk, known as the Black Wolf. Melvina catches the attention of Kavalchuk at their first meeting….he senses that she is not the low-risk secretary, which is her cover identity. She also discovers that young women in Minsk are disappearing, and some but not all are turning up dead. It is official policy in the Soviet Union that criminals such as serial killers are a Western aberration, brought on by loose morals; such crimes do not exist in their well-disciplined country. Melvina suspects otherwise, especially after two different young women with whom she has struck up friendships are found dead. To attract Kavalchuk’s attention was bad enough….but has she also caught the eye of a serial killer? She is living a lie with her own team, and doesn’t know who, if anyone, she can trust. It will take every skill and lesson she has ever learned to survive this mission, and hopefully prevent a nuclear Iran.
In reading this latest novel from Kathleen Kent, I was brought back to the state of the world in 1990. The disaster at Chernobyl had happened just a few years earlier, and the full devastation on the surrounding area was still being discovered. The Soviet Union had just withdrawn from Afghanistan in defeat and was starting to crumble, but was clinging to control of its empire. The Bratva, the Russian mafia, was starting to gain power, and the average citizen was struggling to survive. For a young American agent like Melvina, this was an alien environment, and to be essentially on her own given her separate and highly classified mission further complicated her life. As she wades into Minsk, the reader also is not sure who, if anyone, can be trusted…and whether someone in her orbit just might be a serial killer, stalking her as his latest prey.
Black Wolf is an engrossing read,. Author Kathleen Kent’s background in the clandestine world informs her characters’ decisions and attitudes, and the period of time in which the story is set is certainly fertile ground for cloak and dagger work. The parallel storyline of the potential serial killer adds to the tension of the story, and I wasn’t quite sure which of the many suspects Mel encounters is the psychopath in question. The characters in Black Wolf, like people in real life, are not black and white. Good people often are guilty of doing bad things, but even cold-blooded killers can have moments of grace. Readers of Francine Matthews, Alma Katsu, and Charles Cumming (amongst others) will enjoy this novel of espionage. Thanks to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for providing me with a reader’s copy of Black Wolf.

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An exciting read about a woman who had a special gift and how she uses it but also how dangerous it is.
What I liked best about the book was the time setting— 1990, right in the last days of the Soviet Union and before the rise of big tech.
It’s a nail biting, suspenseful read that will satisfy the spy wants in any reader.
The author based several of the characters on real people and events.

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Black Wolf by Kathleen Kent is a crime-fiction/spy thriller that takes places in the 90's, when the USSR is starting to break up.

"Melvina Donleavy discovers a rare talent growing up. She is a super-recognizer. She can remember any face after seeing it once. She is recruited by the CIA and sent with a team to Byelorussia to seek out some Iranian scientists looking to buy Russian nuclear technology. Mel struggles to stay unnoticed but the head of the KGB knows something is going on with her team. And she's attracted the attention of a serial killer. Mel wonders if her first mission will be her last."

This book is part spy thriller. Think Tom Clancy with a female MC. And it's a serial killer crime fiction story. There is some overlap in the story. Kent's killer is pretty terrifying - operating in plain sight and she uses him for story resolution. I wish a little that that had been a seperate book. Just a personal preference

The story moves quickly, staying mostly in Mel's head. Her ability is unusual but many readers will have something similar, just not to this extreme.

It's nice to revisit the Cold War spy game. Entertaining read from Kent.

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Spy thriller taking place in 1990 in what is now Belarus. The USSR is crumbling and 4 Americans undercover with the CIA arrive in Russia trying to learn who might be trying to create a nuclear bomb threat. Adding to the danger is a serial killer on the loose. A complex spy story to keep you guessing.

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I requested this one because it might be an upcoming title I would like to review on my Youtube Channel. However, after reading the first several chapters I have determined that this book does not suit my tastes. So I decided to DNF this one.

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A riveting espionage story set in Belarus towards the end of the Cold War. Memorable characters, a charged romantic attraction, and a serial killer elevate Black Wolf above the typical spy thriller. The author has first hand knowledge of the Soviet Union and it shows in the realistic details.

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I was traipsing around Belarus-Minsk in 1990 and 1991 on multiple business trips.
Kathleen Kent brilliantly captures the feel of the country and the people as the Soviet bloc transitioned to some form of capitalism.
The story of Melvina as bait for the Butcher of Rostov and simultaneously tracking down scientists looking to trade in nuclear material for cash to support the fledgling Byelorussian republic was exciting and accurately drawn.
The book is a spy thriller and kept me guessing until the end as to who was the fictional Butcher and what would befall Melvina and the team.
I thought narrative was fantastic. Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for the ARC.

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We got a great spy thriller from author Kathleen Kent! I have been waiting for a good undercover yarn and this one does not disappoint.

This one takes place in the Soviet Union in the year 1990 which is awesome in itself from a timepiece perspective. It is right before the Soviet Union dissolves and you can feel it in the book along with the distrust and paranoia the cold war brings. Chernobyl is recent on everyone's mind as the fallout affects everyone. The one stars Melvina Donleavy who is a "super reader" She never forgets a face no matter how long time passes.

I'm not going to even go into how terrifying that has to be for her future husband but that is a totally different story.

But back to this one..... She is part of a CIA team of four sent to the Soviet Union for a secret mission. She is undercover as a simple secretary but she is tasked with a much bigger mission even unknown to her team to help stop Nuclear Weapons from leaving the Soviet Union into the wrong hands. Like Iran. The Black Wolf is the head of the KGB who is relentless and instantly distrusts the team: Mainly Melvina.

This book doesn't stop there as it has other factions like The Russian Mafia causing problems. And, oh yeah, there is a serial killer killing women along the way in a country that doesn't even know what a "serial killer" is. But the flow of vodka and espionage flows on. LOL.

But to nitpick: This is not a beach read. It is long and overly descriptive which is my arch-nemesis in books. If the plot wasn't so interesting I may even have given up somewhere around page 100. It is just very slow at first and doesn't pick up until the bottom 100 pages. (I see people leaving the room already. How rude.) And while there are many interesting characters in the book, the main one is really overly boring.

But still a fascinating spy caper in a terrific environment and most people will appreciate the highly descriptive prose in this setting.

I really appreciate Mulholland Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book and it has a publication date of February 14, 2023. Advance Reader Copy given free for honest review.

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This was my first book to read by this author but won't be my last! The story and its characters will stick with you long after you finish the story. Highly recommend!

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A riveting dark atmospheric cross between espionage and serial killer genres that’s brimming with authenticity and terror. Kathleen Kent crafts a mesmerizing narrative that keeps you eager to read more with a strong and resonating protagonist that steps up the game for bonafide female badasses from female authors. A must-read for fans of gritty crime and cerebral spy thrillers,

Full review to be posted on

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