For Mark Joseph Leonida and in memory of his father, Deacon Clod M. Leonida


I owe thanks first of all to Soumeya Bendimerad Roberts, for seeing what this book needed, and to Masie Cochran, for knowing how it should be shaped. To Nanci McCloskey and Sabrina Wise, for their energy and good humor, and to Jakob Vala, for conjuring Vera’s face. As always, I depend on my first readers for their insight and rigor: Bonnie Altucher, Tom Cook, Jenna Evans, and Helen Terndrup.

Permanent thanks to my family, who took me seriously when it would perhaps have been wiser not to, and to Mark, who is playing for keeps and yet never keeps score.

Book club questions

  1. How would you describe Vera Kelly? Do any of these qualities make Vera a better (or worse) spy?
  2. What did you think of the jumps between Vera’s past and present? How does Vera’s adolescence inform her present predicaments?
  3. How does Vera’s estrangement from her mother influence her?
  4. In noir novels and films, sexuality tends to follow certain tropes. Do you think that’s the case in Who Is Vera Kelly? Is there a femme fatale in this book?
  5. Vera’s options for financial survival are restricted by both her gender and her sexuality. How might her story have played out differently ten years earlier? Ten years later?
  6. What did you make of Vera’s relationship with James? Were you ever suspicious of his reasons to be in Argentina?
  7. What does Vera see in Victoria? What does Victoria see in Vera?
  8. How does Vera’s perspective on the Cold War change over the course of the book?
  9. Lots of girls grow up reading Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew novels. Why do you think there are so few adult spy novels starring female spies?
  10. What do you think is next for Vera Kelly?