The Spy Coast - Book Review

A retired spy's past comes back to haunt her in this twisty thriller.

The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen is equal parts spy drama and mystery, but what sets it apart from others in the genre are the characters: main character Maggie Bird and her friends are all retirement-age ex-CIA agents. They have settled in a sleepy town in rural Maine, hoping to find some peace. But when a loose end from one of Maggie's old missions comes back to haunt her, it can upend things for them all. Maggie and her friends ("The Martini Club") must dust off their 'particular set of skills' to get to the bottom of things.

Book Description:
Former spy Maggie Bird came to the seaside village of Purity, Maine, eager to put the past behind her after a mission went tragically wrong. These days, she’s living quietly on her chicken farm, still wary of blowback from the events that forced her early retirement.

But when a body turns up in Maggie’s driveway, she knows it’s a message from former foes who haven’t forgotten her. Maggie turns to her local circle of old friends—all retirees from the CIA—to help uncover the truth about who is trying to kill her, and why. This “Martini Club” of former spies may be retired, but they still have a few useful skills that they’re eager to use again, if only to spice up their rather sedate new lives.

Complicating their efforts is Purity’s acting police chief, Jo Thibodeau. More accustomed to dealing with rowdy tourists than homicide, Jo is puzzled by Maggie’s reluctance to share information—and by her odd circle of friends, who seem to be a step ahead of her at every turn.

As Jo’s investigation collides with the Martini Club’s maneuvers, Maggie’s hunt for answers will force her to revisit a clandestine career that spanned the globe, from Bangkok to Istanbul, from London to Malta. The ghosts of her past have returned, but with the help of her friends—and the reluctant Jo Thibodeau—Maggie might just be able to save the life she’s built.

The book cuts back and forth between Past-Maggie and Present-Maggie, doling out details of the past mission in bits and pieces. It reminded me a lot of the movie The Debt, where both the younger and older versions of the characters had their moments to shine. Gerritsen dealt with the age of Maggie and her friends gracefully. They may not be in their physical prime, but their minds are as sharp as ever. While it grates on them that the world sees them as irrelevant, they use that to their advantage.

The central mystery is engaging, though it does get off to a slow start. I actually gave up the first time I read it, but the premise was so interesting I decided to give it another go. Once the story got traction, it was hard to put down. But then at the end, everything felt weirdly rushed. I would have liked to see the pacing evened out a bit, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.

As an added bonus, Maggie has some interesting relationships with other female characters in the story. Diana is her old handler. They've clearly parted on bad terms, though the details are murky at first and make it unclear who's side she's really on. Bella and Callie are two young women that Maggie has a quasi-motherly relationship with in the parallel past/present stories. Lastly, there's Jo, the sheriff of the sleepy town who gets drawn in as the bodies start piling up.

I liked Jo and the interplay between her and Maggie. I especially liked how the sheriff was continually flummoxed by these retirees showing up at her crime scenes with more insight than she had. But at the same time, she felt so tangential to the main story that I was perplexed by the number of chapters devoted to her point of view. Then I discovered that the book is meant to be the first in a series, and my guess is the author is just setting things up for the future.

I've written before about the dearth of roles for older women in the action/sci-fi genres, so it pleases me to see characters like Maggie and her friends. I'm looking forward to future installments of the Martini Club.

Breaking the Age Barrier
A visit from Miles’ grandma highlights opportunities for older women in sci-fi.

Ratings

  • Princess Power: 4 Stars
  • Overall: 4 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Pass

Learn about my Ratings System.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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