The Child Riddler by Angela Greenman, an entertaining spy thriller with lots of realistic action-though it’s hard to relate to the super flawed protagonist. Read the full review.
The Child Riddler Synopsis
Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and she’s found her one true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl.
The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot. But Zoe’s agency isn’t the only one after the child. And when enemies reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers, every government and terrorist organization in the world want to find that little girl.
Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about, but also herself. The agency prescribed pills—the ones that transform her into the icy killer she must become to survive—are beginning to threaten her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness. Can she protect the young girl and still protect the one thing she cares more about than anything else?
Bella Books (2022)
Genre(s) Spy Thriller, LGBTQ+ Action & Adventure
Angela Greenman | Pub Date Jul 19, 2022 | ISBN 9781642473650 | 320 pages
The Child Riddler by Angela Greenman introduces Zoe Lorel, an operative for a secret, shadowy government intelligence agency that primarily assassinates the country’s enemies. Greenman offers some very flawed and not very likeable characters in this spy thriller, but none more flawed than the protagonist, Zoe Lorel. Authors imbue characters with flaws to make them feel more realistic, since actual people are far from perfect. A perfect character would seem both unbelievable, and boring. Yet here, Greenman has given the protagonist so many flaws that I found her hard to relate to and the flaws somewhat distracting.
The book opens with a bang with a powerful, action-packed scene that matches up well with some of the best spy thrillers I’ve read previously. While I don’t review them here much since they aren’t the focus of this review site, I’ve enjoyed reading many spy thrillers since discovering Tom Clancy many years ago. I’m a big fan of Robert Ludlum’s original Jason Bourne series books and the Matt Damon movies based on them. You could say Zoe Lorel is a female archetype of Bourne since she is also an elite assassin working for a secret government intelligence agency. The character also shares a similarity with the Jeremy Renner character in The Bourne Legacy film. Like Aaron Cross in the film, Zoe Lorel has a dependency on addictive drugs that give her peak performance and effectiveness as an assassin. And side effects of these drugs eventually cause her some serious problems.
When we first meet Zoe, she is in the middle of a mission to assassinate a target to keep a sophisticated, high-tech new weapon from falling into the wrong hands. During the mission, Zoe encounters a young girl by happenstance who plays a key role later in the story. After the promising start, the pace falls off dramatically as Greenman introduces us to the main side story of the novel, Zoe’s romantic relationship with her girlfriend, Isabel, who works in a support role for the same government agency.
The side story mostly failed to hold my interest because, after the opening scenes, I was expecting a spy thriller, not a romance. Except it helped disclose flaws about Zoe that for me made her such an unsympathetic character. As an example, Isabel wants Zoe to leave the front lines so they can marry, live together, and raise a family. Zoe seems to feel a strong sexual attraction to the curvy Isabel, but shows little concern about the things Isabel wants or finds important. And despite the relationship, Zoe takes full advantage of the “open” relationship agreement with Isabel to indulge her hedonistic appetites, such as a sexual liaison with a professional BDSM mistress. These characteristics make Zoe a character hard to like because she seems such a selfish, self-absorbed person who is primarily concerned with satisfying her own needs and desires.
There is another slow-paced sequence of scenes where Zoe and Isabel attend an important agency meeting. While there, the head of the agency (incidentally her uncle), gives Zoe a new assignment to abduct the young girl she encountered at the beginning of the book long enough to extract a critical code needed to make a captured high-tech weapon fully operational.
Greenman is a capable writer and many of the action-packed scenes a reader expects from a spy thriller are well done and highly entertaining. But the side story and Zoe’s mostly ambivalent attitude toward a functional relationship and raising a family make the pacing feel uneven. In fairness, Zoe makes a transformative character arc journey over the course of the story and comes out a somewhat better person on the other side. But I can’t say I every truly liked the character.
I enjoyed the dramatic spy action sequences in the book very much, but found the romantic side story a distraction. Still, fans of spy thrillers who enjoy a thriller infused with a healthy dose of romance should enjoy this well-written book, though it probably skews more to fans of the LGBTQ+ literature niche, the audience the author and publisher clearly aimed for.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.
Book rating: ★★★★
Thanks Larry for the fair and honest review! I really appreciate your balanced and thorough discussion.