The best thing about this thriller is the contexts in Russia in that parlous period. The slightly clichéd bit of a potentially out-of-her-depth practitioner sort of annoyed me .. watching her stumble to get to best solutions, but it was exciting enough and great atmosphere .. even if some over-writing throughout is involved .. it could be a tighter read. But I hope the author continues .. we can learn a lot, and she has lots to offer.
A great combination of cold war thriller and serial killer manhunt. Superbly reminiscent of obstinate bureaucracy and the lengths needed to get it onside
My thanks to Head of Zeus - Aria & Aries for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Black Wolf’ by Kathleen Kent.
This gripping historical spy thriller focuses on a female CIA agent with an extraordinary gift. This results in her supervisors sending her to Belarus on a dangerous mission.
Minsk, 1990. Melvina Donleavy has travelled there as part of a four person US trade delegation, though each member of the team is actually a CIA operative. It is also her first undercover mission with the CIA. Mel is a 'super recognizer', someone who never forgets a face. She is there to covertly identify scientists working for hostile powers who are seeking to obtain fissionable materials from the collapsing Soviet Union.
She and her colleagues are under constant surveillance coordinated by the head of the Byelorussian KGB, Martin Gregorivich Kavalchuk. He is also known as the Black Wolf.
However, aside from the dangers presented by the KGB, there is a serial killer stalking women on the streets of Minsk. Yet the local authorities do not recognise the existence of such killers, attributing them as a symptom of the capitalist decadence.
I enjoy spy fiction, especially of this type that is grounded in history and actual tradecraft. The serial killer brought a fascinating extra element to the plot. It soon becomes clear that Mel has attracted the killer’s attention and we are provided with the occasional chapter from the viewpoint of the man who has been dubbed the Svisloch Strangler.
The Black Wolf of the title, Martin, is a complex character and not a cartoon-like baddie. The narrative is also peppered with period details about the fall of the USSR and conditions in Belarus.
In addition, there are a number of references to Chernobyl and the Exclusion Zone that extends into Belarus. Mel and her party wear badge dosimeters to measure the amount of radiation though they won’t know how much they have been exposed to until they return to the USA.
Overall, I enjoyed ‘Black Wolf’ very much. I was pleased that the final chapter allows for the possibility of a sequel. I certainly hope that will happen.
Will put you off mushrooms (if you didn't hate them already!).
In 1990, four CIA agents go undercover to Byelorussia following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, on the premise of determining whether they should provide funding to the country but only if the team is convinced, and it can be evidenced, that the money won't be used in any nuclear programs. The youngest agent, Mel, has been sent in on her first mission under the guide of secretarial support. However, she has a superpower which makes her the strongest asset for the US government who have sent her into Byelorussia on a discreet solo operation of her own. When just one person knows your secret though, it can easily fall into the wrong hands, and so when the head of the KGB suddenly starts taking an interest in Mel, will the new agent be able to avoid the Black Wolf's interrogation?
I have realised I enjoy espionage themes since I read Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews, which were my firsts in that genre and the only ones I have read so far. It was hard not to compare for that reason. I would say this was an enjoyable read; a strong convincing narrative supported by the author's personal knowledge of working for the US government as an agent, with the momentum building up the more I read, I couldn't wait to find out what happened at the end. The only downside was, I thought Mel was a weak protagonist, going against all that you're supposedly trained as an undercover agent, I found her too trusting and that was frustrating to read (maybe I am comparing too much to Dominika of Matthews' work). Would recommend all the same! Thank you @netgalley and @AriaandAries for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Check trigger warnings before reading.
A captivating spy thriller full of mystery and suspense.
Melvina was a fascinating main character - a super recognizer with the memory to recognise any face seen had taken her and a team to Minsk in an under cover operation. Her foray into the former Soviet Union with its corruptions, misogyny and paranoia would lead her to far more dangerous situations than her training could ever have prepared her for. She had to rely on her own intuition and I loved how she was able to train her mind to remain sharp.
Not knowing who to trust kept the story flowing and the pages turning.
Reading the authors notes on her own experiences was a fascinating addition to the story.
Black Wolf is Kathleen Kent’s first spy thriller set in Minsk 1990…the time of the collapsing of the Soviet Union.
In short, Melvina Donleavy, a super recogniser, is on her first undercover mission with the CIA to identify Iranian scientists actively seeking nuclear weaponry. However, she soon discovers that there are even more dangers lurking about, a serial killer.
I enjoyed this gritty spy thriller, packed full of interesting details during this time in the Soviet Union, made even more authoritative as the author based the book on her own experience as a Department of Defense contractor assigned to the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. Great storytelling, with marvellously created tension, I look forward to reading more from Kathleen.
Big thanks to Kathleen Kent, Aria & Aries and NetGalley for this eARC which I chose to read in return for my honest review.
There is a lot of competition from other excellent writers of spy fiction but this is an exceptional addition to the genre.
The author certainly knows what she is talking about given her background and the book reeks of authenticity.
The heroine is fascinating and credible and the plot grips you from the start.
What more can you ask for?
What a fantastic book this was to read. It felt like you were reading two simultaneous storylines - the spying and the killing before both ultimately came together. Great characters and very well written too - keeping you very intrigued all the way through until the very end. Highly recommended!
would like to thank netgalley and the publishers for letting me read this book
have to admit defeat and not carry on.. its just not my sort of book and i tried so hard to get into it but to no avail...but it was so easy to put it down and forget it...
Whilst I enjoyed the premise of this book it did seem, to me, to take a mile to go a 100 yards. Characters and storyline I enjoyed, with plenty of room to follow on with Mel and her “abilities”. Particularly liked the line describing the Black Wolf, just feel be a better book if a little condensed.
Soviet law states that murder, especially serial killing, is exclusively a capitalist crime, but, as Agatha Christie said, “murder is easy if no one suspects”. In 1990, there is a serial killer operating in Minsk, the capital of Byelorussia. The Soviet Union is breaking up, and it is clear that Byelorussia will become completely free from the soviet system within a year. With that independence will come serious economic problems and the country will have to rapidly identify new sources of income. An obvious way is to sell assets and one of their biggest assets is the nuclear weapons they possess and the associated technology and skills. Aware of this, the USA is determined to provide massive aid in exchange for helping to dismantle the weaponry and neutralising the risk that the technology will fall into foreign hands. Although Iraq has just invaded Kuwait, the CIA are convinced that it is Iran that will be the real threat. To resolve these various issues, the USA has sent a team comprising three “Accountants” and a “Secretary” (all four being undercover CIA). The first three are there to examine the economic factors, but the last is there to identify Iranian nuclear scientists who may be negotiating for the technology, skills and material necessary for the creation of a nuclear bomb. Naturally, if there are any Iranian scientists there they could be any of a largish number and will be kept away from the Americans. The “Secretary”, Mel, has a rare skill; she recognises people, not just their faces but every aspect of their heads, and remembers them forever. Shown pictures of all possible scientists she will be able to identify them if she so much as glimpses from any angle. Being in a sense supernumerary she can move around more freely than the others, and make contacts. It is from these contacts that she first hears about the serial killer. When first one contact then another is murdered it looks like the killer might be homing in on her. Someone else who is homing in on Mel is the local Head of the KGB, Martin Kavalchuk, nicknamed the Black Wolf. He suspects that the Americans are spies and that Mel is more important than her role would suggest. Finding the serial killer (while holding the party line that such people only exist in the decadent West) he is also interested in Mel because of her links to the two most recent victims. As the team close in on their objectives, the Black Wolf closes in on them, and the killer closes in on Mel.
This book is both a spy thriller and a murder mystery. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War, and the other sources of international tensions are very well detailed, especially the descriptions of Minsk and its surroundings, including the impact of the explosion at Chernobyl. The author draws heavily on her own experience and involvement in these types of activity at that time. The pace is initially quite slow, as she fills in the detailed background and shows how laborious and rather tedious negotiation and auditing can be. This is spying of the Le Carré kind rather than the Fleming. The murder story is conventional from the crime point of view but is not investigated as such, more observed. The pace picks up as the story lines start to come together and the tension increases until a satisfactory dénouement. The epilogue has a lot of content, perhaps a bit too much. Overall, though, it is quite a satisfactory read.
I would like to thank NetGalley, the publishers and the author for providing me with a draft proof copy for the purpose of this review.
It's a book that talks about the last days of the Cold War but the places and the people are so current that it could have been set in these days.
The Glasnost happened long time ago, Gorbachev died last year and the geography and the political situations is very different but there's something timeless in this type of story and these types of characters.
This is a gripping and twisty story that mixes spy story and thriller. CIA, KGB, Russian mafia and serial killers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this complex story as I loved Melvina, a clever and brave woman.
This is the first book i read by this author and I appreciated the storytelling, the attention to the details, and the complex plot that always kept my attention alive and made me feel a constant sense of dread.
An intriguing story that I strongly recommend.
Many thanks to Aria & Aries for this arc, all opinions are mine
Kathleen Kent writes a remarkable multilayered espionage thriller that takes us to the disturbing heart of the collapsing Soviet Empire in the 1990s, Byelorussia (Belarus) and Minsk where a CIA trade team has arrived. It's youngest member, Melvina 'Mel' Donleavy, is posing as a secretary, codename Medusa, the most inexperienced, but most crucial member of the American group, none of the others have any idea of her importance or her mission. Mel is the rarest of individuals, a super recogniser, she forgets no-one, ever, the only one who will be able identify Iranian scientists in Minsk, intent on secretly acquiring nuclear know how, a development feared by the Americans. Mel is a stronger person than others give her credit for, but none of her training has prepared her for the reality and dangers of operating undercover, with its issues of trust, fear and paranoia.
The surveillance is all encompassing and so blatant as they are openly followed by the KGB, the meetings the team have, overseen by the Minister of External Affairs, are frustrating, intent on thwarting the Americans, offering no opportunities of seeing any overseas 'visitors'. Even the deep connections of Mel's contact, Dr William Cutler, struggles. To the horror of the Americans, the notoriously feared head of the BSSR KGB, Martin Kavalchuk, known as the Black Wolf, shows an unwelcome and surprising interest in Mel. That is not the only threat facing Mel who, through Katya, becomes aware of the Svisloch Strangler, prostitutes and other women have been disappearing for some time in Minsk. Violence and abuse of women is rife in a country that does not believe in the existence of serial killers. There is more, Mel may be her own worst enemy when it comes to her uncontrollable and overwhelming sexual attraction to Alexi.
Kent writes a gripping blend of fact and fiction, one of the main highlights for me is her detailed picture of Byelorussia, its harrowing history, contaminated badly by Chernobyl, a brutalised people who suffered the highest number of losses in the war, the emergence of the mafia, the Bratva, the brotherhood, and the unapologetic sexism and misogyny. It is caught in the midst of the power of a noxious, decaying and chaotic Moscow and the lure of independence, held back by unhelpful beliefs that serial killers are a product of a decadent West, and an impossibility in Minsk. This is a stellar espionage read, compulsive, suspenseful and tense, and informative, covering as it does a fascinating and turbulent period of history in a part of the world that little is known of.
This will appeal to readers interested in Russia and Byelorussia in the 1990s and the well founded fears of nuclear proliferation. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
Not my usual genre but well worth the sojourn. Kathleen Kent draws on her own personal experiences to inject Black Wolf with an authenticity that keeps you hooked until the end.
Set in the early 90’s the Soviet Union is in a state of flux. Gorbachev is still in charge, the KGB reigns supreme and Byelorussia (now Belarus) is living with the devastation caused from Chernobyl. Mel (Melvina Donleavy), is sent to Minsk along with 3 other CIA colleagues. This is her first mission and is undercover even from the rest of her team because Mel has a unique talent, she is a Super Recogniser, she literally never forgets a face.
So, we have an undercover rookie CIA Agent, a secret mission, a country about to implode, distrust of the West abounds and a serial killer is on the loose. Angst is in abundance, tension ratchets up throughout to reach an adrenaline fuelled ending. Highly enjoyable.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was a very exciting story to read, you never knew what was going to happen next and the ever present threat of retribution was overwhelming. A very good story with some amazing characters and a very topical story. Kept me up burning the midnight oil to reach the finale.
Melvina Donleavy is a young CIA agent in the collapsing Soviet Union. The character of Melvina is well described and the novel is exceptional in its visual descriptions. The other characters are well described especially the Russian ones, and the food on the menu usually contains meat, so a vegetarian American is unusual. The description of the food is excellent, and the choice of tea rather than coffee is recommended by one member of the American party. Altogether a good read. Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for giving me a copy of the book.
I love a good spy thriller and this one lived up to my expectations. The storytelling was on point and the tension racked up as the book progressed. It doesn’t matter if you like these characters but it is important that you understand the setting and the menace behind early 1990s Russia and its satellites. I confess that the main protagonist, Mel, irritated me at times but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was surprised that it was written by a woman (and before you all hate on me - I am female too) but since learning that, it enhances the writing rather than detracting. Is there going to be a sequel where the characters meet in another tense scenario? Kurdistan? I really hope so!
A most engrossing story full of intricate detail and well-drawn complex characters of a US mission to the Belarus region during the embryo stages of independence after the fall of the Berlin wall. Tjr team numbered three plus one, Mel a young woman who hd separate mission separate from the official one. Mel was official secretary to the team leader. This arrangement resulted mistrust and suspicion which hinder the mission compounded bytheir field liaison officer who also worked for the Israelis .When two young Russian young ladies who Mel befriended are murdered one after another with the inference of a serial killer itresults in the head of the KGB, the Dark Wolf to home on which results in a complex and engrossing tale of how it most unexpectedly pans out in which the Dark Wolf manages to save a victim and administer justice to satisfy all parties
Black Wolf Kathleen Kent
What an excellent spy thriller. It is set in 1990 in Byelorussia where change is in the air. Mikhail Gorbachev is still in charge of Russia but change is coming and the head of the KGB in Byelorussia, Martin Kavalchuk is plotting to allow Iran to have access to nuclear weapons.
The CIA in America have got wind of this and have sent a team of 4 people to try and corroborate if there are Iranian scientists in Byelorussia. One of the team is Melvina Donleavy who is ostensibly merely a secretary to the group. However Melvina’s talent is that she only has to see a face once and she can instantly remember it many years later. None of her team are aware of this so she is on her own when trying to gain access to the various meetings in order to see if there are any faces that she recognises.
To complicate things even more there is a serial killer in the streets of Minsk which the KGB is trying to cover up as they do not accept that there is any serious crime in their country. In fact I found this book so fascinating because of the authenticity of life as it was (and probably still is) in Byelorussia. Everyone is being watched and followed day and night and the sheer drabness of the places and lifestyles of these people really comes over, the writing is so vivid.
Melvina, on her first task since her training, is a very strong character and I hope that she may feature in future novels. She is tested to her limit in every way and needs to utilise all her training.
I really enjoyed this book and will add Ms Kent to my list of authors that I want to read more of.
Loved this book. A return to the Cold War with great espionage, and a serial killer thrown in. The author gives a glimpse of all the characters whilst gradually building the tension and leading you towards the final act. Will definitely keep you reading into the wee hours