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Welcome to today’s TeaserTuesday blog hop, interview and review!
A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton
A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton brings to life in fictional form, the true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent. Readers are presented with the psychology of a spy, the dangers, betrayals, and motivations.
Bentley was an American citizen who spied for the Russians until she became an FBI informant. She was recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists since she worked at an Italian library. After being fired because she was anti-Fascist, she became a spy for Russia. Along with her lover and Russian handler, she helps to build the largest Soviet spy network in America, becoming known as the uncrowned Red Spy Queen.
Once WWII ended, she had qualms about spying for the Russians since they were no longer allies. After Elizabeth refused the Russian intelligence demands to turn over her contacts’ names, she was put on the assassination list by the Soviet secret police, NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB. This prompts her to become an FBI informant, testifying at the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Readers get the gist of Elizabeth’s story in the form of a dialogue between her and a fictional character Catherine Gray. Catherine showed up at Elizabeth’s doorstep demanding answers to the shocking mystery she uncovered about her family. As Catherine listens to Elizabeth’s harrowing tale, she discovers that the women’s lives are linked in shocking ways. Faced with the idea that her entire existence is based on a lie, Catherine realizes that only Elizabeth Bentley can tell her what the truth really is.
Anyone interested in an espionage book will enjoy this story. Readers will be immersed in the dangerous world of spies. They will question who is an American patriot and who is not. An added bonus is the writer’s notes at the end of the book, 19 pages explaining all the changes that the author made in persons, places, and timelines.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Stephanie Marie Thornton: I was looking for an amazing spy story during the Cold War. After I started digging, I found out about Elizabeth Bentley who parallels Whittaker Chambers. He also ran a Soviet spy ring and turned an informant for the FBI. Unlike Chambers, Elizabeth was discounted by the FBI and was left on her own. They knew what she was telling them was true because of Project Venona, a counterintelligence program that decrypted messages transmitted by Soviet intelligence agencies.
EC: What is truth versus fiction?
SMT: True: she ran the largest Soviet spy ring in the US. The letter from FBI Director Hoover was factual although there was no record of him having a meeting with her. I made her lover Vlad up, but she was on the Russian hit list. Also true, after she confessed to the FBI, she essentially took down the Golden Age of Soviet espionage.
EC: Is it true she helped to convict Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?
SMT: She never had any physical evidence because great spies do not leave trails. The FBI wanted her help to document and get guilty verdicts. She relied on hearsay, but her testimony led to their being found guilty. I put in this quote, “words matter, they are like bullets.” I wanted to show that what she said led to the death of three people, all accused of being spies.
EC: How would you describe Elizabeth?
SMT: A prickly protagonist. She tried to spin in her autobiography that she was matronly. Sometimes she was arrogant, fearless, and early on naïve. I think she had courage to face down the Soviets. I think she was complicated and intriguing.
EC: What were her motivations?
SMT: During her college days she never had any close friends and her parents had died when she was young. She felt aimless and fell in with the American Communist Party during the Great Depression. After traveling to Italy, she realized the Fascists were dangerous. To stop Fascism, she joined the Communist Party. While there she felt some camaraderie and that she had a purpose. It was justifiable in her mind to be a spy because she thought the Russians and the US were on the same team to fight the Nazis. I think her motivations were a combination of loneliness, being anti-Fascist, and falling in love with her handler.
EC: What role does Catherine Gray play?
SMT: She is the fictional character that allows Elizabeth to explain herself. She represents the readers who are doubtful about what Elizabeth said. They want to understand how this highly educated young woman, an All-American girl, became a Soviet spy and yet still considered herself a patriot. With Catherine I was able to call out all Elizabeth’s discrepancies and to ask questions.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
SMT: I think she was a product of her time. We live in a very divisive world today. I wanted to show that she made some decisions a lot of Americans would not agree with, but maybe they could understand her motivations, to stop Fascism. People can agree to disagree.
EC: What about your next book?
SMT: It is set during the 18th and 19th century in Europe. The protagonists are a mother and daughter. As with all my books, my mission is to shed some light on forgotten women in history. It will probably be out in 2023.
If you liked this article
Hello book lovers, welcome back to our Tuesday post. This includes #TeaserTuesday, #BookBeginnings and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. Enjoy!
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
I’m also taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
Every Tuesday Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews now hosts “First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros”, where readers share the first paragraph of a book that they are reading, have read, or plan to read soon.
A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton
The gun in Catherine’s Pucci handbag bumped reassuringly against her hip as she double-checked the address of he Connecticut apartment building.A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Looking forward to visiting your blogs and seeing what your Teaser Tuesday, Book Beginnings and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros are this week! Luv Sassy x
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