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What Are Buzz Residents Reading?: Q&A with Carmen Pratt

Cindy Burnett
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Carmen Pratt

Buzz resident Carmen Pratt recommends her favorite recent read.

This week, I interviewed Buzz resident Carmen Pratt about what she has read recently and loved. She selected Red Widow by Alma Katsu, which follows Lyndsey Duncan who worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during her most recent assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague, now Chief of the Russia Division, recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself once more. Three Russian assets have been discovered – including one of her own – and the CIA is convinced there's a mole in the department. With years of work in question, and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, only this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Author Jeffrey Deaver raves about the book: “Superb! Part savvy geopolitical spy thriller in the tradition of John le Carré, part whip-sawing investigative procedural, part gripping psychological suspense, Red Widow grabs you in the harrowing opening scene and never lets go—and I don’t mean at the past page; this novel stays with you long after you’ve finished it. Author Katsu brings an incisive and resonant voice to her tale and has populated it with truly distinctive, fully formed characters, including one of the sharpest and most appealing protagonists in recent fiction: Lyndsey Duncan. Did I say superb? Well, consider it said once more.”

Here is what Carmen has to say about it:

What is the best book you have read recently?
I recently devoured Red Widow by Alma Katsu and was just in time to hear her speak on May 4 at Murder by the Book about her newest release, The Fervor. When I say “devour,” I mean I stayed up way too late reading because I had to know how it ended. I love it when a book is so good that I lose sleep. Red Widow came out in March 2021 and is a CIA spy thriller woven around the current tensions between the US and Russia and everything clandestine. 

What did you like about it? What made it stand out to you?
I loved that Ms. Katsu drew from her real-life experiences as a CIA analyst to tell a story about the dangers of recruiting and managing spies. I’m most interested in books that explore characters’ emotions and motivations, and the author did a fantastic job of drawing me into the personal and professional intrigue among the analysts and their superiors. The main character, Lyndsey, is also conducting an internal investigation into a potential leak in the agency, and I found her processes and analysis especially thought-provoking since I sometimes professionally conduct internal investigations. I also found especially compelling the female married analyst – the red widow – whose husband was killed in the line of duty and her life choices thereafter that take up a large part of the story. I’m always looking for books that feature strong and smart female characters.

How did you learn about the book?
One of my favorite ways of discovering new books is browsing in bookstores for the designated “Staff Picks” or recommendations. One of the staff at MBTB really liked this book (but I can’t remember who it was) and had written a description of it that caught my eye. Now I want to read some of Ms. Katsu’s other books, like The Hunger

What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (recommended by my son, Caleb), and By the Book by Jasmine Guillory (found at Blue Willow Bookshop). The Lewis book is nonfiction about two incredibly interesting Israeli psychologists whose friendship and groundbreaking work set the stage for Big Data studies and behavioral economics. Mr. Lewis is able to take topics that I do not normally read about and weave a tale that teaches me stuff. The Guillory book is a rom-com that I picked up at Blue Willow Bookshop, again, based on staff recommendations. It’s a retelling of the Disney story of Beauty and the Beast, and it’s pure pleasure.

I would love to hear what you are reading! Feel free to drop it in the comments below.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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