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"Our American Friend" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

In typical thriller form, Anna Pitoniak begins her novel about accomplished White House correspondent Sophie Morse by telling how the story ends and then going back to recount all the events leading up to the closing moments. Near the end of “Our American Friend," Sophie and her lawyer husband Ben are living clandestinely in Split, Croatia. How and why they are there is a twisty mystery that is gradually unspooled.

Sophie has resigned from her correspondent’s position after becoming disgusted by the outrageous, bigoted antics of U.S. President Henry Caine. She plans to leave politics altogether but then receives an unexpected invitation from First Lady Lara Caine to write her official biography.

Sophie is intrigued by the project because the First Lady is an elusive, secretive person who has shared little about her past and has remained out of the public eye during her husband’s two terms in the Oval Office. The ambitious journalist knows it’s the chance of a lifetime to further her career, but she is fearful of the negative effect the assignment may have on her family life even though encouraged by her husband to accept the challenge.

She finally agrees to author the book and learns that Lara was born in Moscow, raised in Paris, and was a model before she married her tycoon husband. As Lara’s trust in Sophie's ability to maintain confidences grows, the First Lady divulges more details about her life growing up in a privileged setting as the daughter of a post-World War II diplomat who was a member of the KGB.

Sophie asks herself several questions as she is drawn deeper into Lara’s story: Why has Lara elected to have her biography written now? And why did she select Sophie to write it? Could Lara's entire story be a cover-up for something critically perilous?

Several of Pitoniak’s characters must make difficult ethical decisions which will have long-lasting effects on their futures. Through them, the author ponders some of the surprises of history, the risks of making decisions for love, and the ways secrets can take on a life of their own.

This lively, sophisticated thriller pulls together political history from the 1970s to the present making the story frightfully believable. The colorful locales, the engrossing plot, and the quiet complicity of the characters in undercover activities are cleverly interwoven and produce a smart, explosive spy tale. Devotees of political thrillers and mysteries will find much to like in “Our American Friend.”

About the Author: Anna Pitoniak worked in book publishing, including as a senior editor at Random House, before becoming a full-time author. She has written two other books: “Necessary People” and “The Futures.”

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