"I, SPY," by Jordan McCollum, Durham Crest Books, $15.95, 296 pages (f)
Being a secret spy isn’t easy, especially for Talia Reynolds as she constantly battles to find balance. But like all good spy stories, Talia’s compartmentalized professional and romantic lives cross paths in the line of dangerous duty.
Talia is a fiercely independent 20-something; she’s also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While popular culture has glamorized the dark side of covert operations, Jordan McCollum found a way to electrify Talia’s mild CIA experiences, even as Talia’s every thought bleeds with high morals and standards.
“I, Spy” begins with an operation gone wrong. Talia and her partners make it out mostly unscathed, but the chaos of a mission gone awry sets the tone for rest of the novel. Her next mission is neither easy nor safe as her boss throws her into a compromising situation — she has to date and distract the next target, a daunting Russian in search of Canadian aerospace secrets.
However, luring in the target is only half of Talia’s trouble. As she gets deeper into her new mission, her relationship with her longtime boyfriend Danny is pushed to its limits. Duty and her country call, while Danny is left waiting and wondering why he is suddenly pushed to the back burner of Talia’s life.
That wonder quickly shifts to danger as Talia finds herself in a pickle. Danny is no longer an outsider. He’s dragged into a life-threatening situation with Talia by the latest target, who had caught on to Talia’s game. Faced with protecting Danny and the cover she’s created to keep her spy life a secret, Talia is forced to choose between her lies and love.
McCollum’s storytelling is easygoing with an occasional splash of sass. She paints Talia not only as a strong woman, but a compassionate partner in both work and play. She’s the type of spy who doesn’t get lost in the adrenaline, values human life and is uncompromising in the risks she takes to protect the ones she loves.
McCollum laces LDS values throughout each chapter. Talia’s friends and co-workers are well aware of — and respect — her standards, like her aversion to coffee and the fact that she and her serious boyfriend don’t live together. While the language is clean from start to finish, McCollum does add a few more mature scenes, like Talia finding herself in a sexually compromising situation and having to safely flee.
McCollum's smart and quick banter translates well to Talia’s personality and keeps readers engaged throughout. And the lesson Talia learns is universal: a love isn’t worth having if honesty doesn’t exist first.
"I, Spy" has been nominated for a 2013 Whitney Award in the mystery/speculative category. Whitney Awards recognize the work of Mormon novelists.