Review: A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy by Stephanie Marie Thornton

I started reading Stephanie Marie Thornton’s books years ago and absolutely feel in love with her story telling style! One of the things I found the most compelling was she wrote stories about women in antiquity. Women that wouldn’t be likely to have a ‘story’ that was well known. For example the Empress Theodora and the women of Genghis Kahn. I loved that she took well known women in antiquity, but were unlikely to generate mainstream stories, and then created a story for them. I adored her early books and when I saw that she was making the shift into the more modern era, I was a little sad.

That said, I have read her more ‘modern’ books which, I am happy to report, were all wonderful too! Although I am still waiting for a story about Boudica, but I have loved her modern novels. But this book was one I was looking forward to above all others to date! I have been really enjoying books set in a post WWII world that include early espionage. This book is set a little later than I was hoping (set in 1963) but still compelling in content and espionage!

This is more of a ‘Cold War’ era spy type novel rather than immediate post WWII, but the content and suspense was on fire and I absolutely loved this one! I devoured it in like a day. It was so good and Thornton’s storytelling style just keeps getting better and better. I still have a special place in my heart for the ancient history novels but this more modern novel has a lot to recommend itself!


A thrilling tale of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton.

1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy’s assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Elizabeth Bentley’s doorstep demanding answers to the shocking mystery just uncovered about her family. What she doesn’t expect is for Bentley to ensnare her in her own story of becoming a controversial World War II spy and Cold War informer…

Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley–code name Clever Girl–finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Jacob Golos, Elizabeth makes another unexpected discovery when she learns her lover is actually a Russian spy. Together, they will build the largest Soviet spy network in America and Elizabeth will become its uncrowned Red Spy Queen. However, once the war ends and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. become embroiled in the Cold War, it is Elizabeth who will dangerously clash with the NKVD, the brutal Soviet espionage agency.

As Catherine listens to Elizabeth’s harrowing tale, she empathizes with her, that is, until she uncovers startling revelations that link the two women’s lives in shocking ways. Faced with the idea that her entire existence is based on a lie, Catherine realizes there can be many sides to the truth. And only Elizabeth Bentley can tell her what that truth really is. (summary from Goodreads)


I wish I had Stephanie Thornton as a history teacher in school because, damn does she have a great way of making history exciting and interesting! This book hooked me from the beginning. Not only if the cover positively stunning, but the story within matches the beauty of the cover! Like Thornton, I have a passion for women in history and I have a whole list of female figures I would love to read stories about directly from Thornton’s brain!

This story is based on the real American spy, Elizabeth Bentley who spied on the Americans for the Russians but then later switched and spied on the Russian’s for the Americans. I couldn’t imagine what would have to go through someone’s mind to choose another country over their own but I thought that Thornton did a wonderful job providing the psychology and introspection for readers in Elizabeth’s character. No doubt it would have been a tough character to write but Thornton was equal to that task. Elizabeth Bentley was such a rich character who really came alive in this story under Thornton’s pen. I absolutely loved it.

I don’t know that I actually ‘liked’ Elizabeth’s character in the book or in general once I did more research on her. But I thought that Thornton crafted an interesting story and that story and psychology in Elizabeth’s character drew me in and made me not want to put this one down. It was an incredibly good book and I enjoyed every single minute. This book has a lot to process and unpack and I think would be a good one for book clubs. I think it would generate a lot of interesting conversations for sure! I simply love Thornton and I cannot wait for more books by her! It you love historical fiction about women then you need to read this one! So good!

Book Info and Rating

Format416 pages, Paperback

Expected publicationSeptember 14, 2021 by Berkley Books

ISBN9780593198407 (ISBN10: 0593198409)

Free review copy provided by publisher, Berkley Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction, spy novel


One thought on “Review: A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy by Stephanie Marie Thornton

  1. I haven’t ready of Thornton’s books yet but I do have her Theodora novel on my TBR! I love a good historical fiction, especially ones about real-life people. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

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