book reviews

A Memoir–About a Young Female CIA Spy

Tracy Walder’s The Unexpected Spy (St. Martin’s Press 2020) is a real-life account of one 23-year-old’s rise from college graduate to a highly-respected intelligence-gathering CIA operative hired on directly after 9-11. The tagline sums her job up pretty well:

From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists

But it’s how she got there that makes this an exceptional tale. She’s not the girl who spent her youth dreaming of working in intelligence, preparing herself with all the necessary skills and contacts. In fact, her journey is nothing you’d expect. In her own words:

“I was one woman. One Californian. One former sorority girl who was utterly determined to be seen as the individual resource I was rather than the government I represented.”

If spies are supposed to be undetectable, unpredictable, and unusual, Tracy is perfect. She goes straight from her college sorority house to the CIA, bringing along her hair curler, bright red lipstick and perfectly matched nail polish. When you see her sitting in a Starbucks with her $5 coffee, the first thing you’d think of wouldn’t be “She’s a spy”. In fact, you’d never think that which makes her perfect. She starts right after 9-11 analyzing intel on how to bring down those who attacked America. We join her in Crash Bang School where she learns how to knock the other guy off the road while going really fast, in Poison School where she learns to make the same horrendous poisons that terrorists unleash on innocent civilians, and then a variety of operations around the world, many of which she can’t share too many details. In each, though, it’s clear: Her goal is to gather intel that defeats America’s enemies.

Her voice is straightforward, honest, and strong as though she is talking to friends, not strangers reading her memoir. It is one of the most personal accounts I’ve ever read of the aftermath of 9-11 through the eyes of our intelligence agencies. Despite her co-ed roots, Tracy proves to be strong and resilient with a fear of nothing, a never-quit attitude, and a steel core that keeps her centered.

“I’ve always liked being in the eye of the storm, the quiet, hidden center of it all, rather than with the crowds outside observing.”

She is proud of her background and never feels like it makes her weaker or she must apologize for it. This scene shows how unabashedly solid she is in her own self-confidence when another agent tries to make fun of her sophisticated clothing (which she is proud of):

[Fred asks]: “What kind of ridiculous outfit is this?”

“My suit?” I thought it was sharp. Stylish. The wrinkles had even fallen out since the flight.

“You’re in the Middle East, for f***sake,” he said, “not on a shopping trip at Saks Fifth Avenue.”

Fred waddled away quickly. Once he was out of earshot, I leaned into Ben and said, “Definitely sexually frustrated.”

A personal note. I am politics-averse. Any discussion is as likely to end up a shouting match as an informative discussion. Despite that this book is about the government’s response to the worst attack on US soil since WWII, Tracy just shares what she did. No lectures, moralizing, or pontificating.

Highly recommended for armchair spies, future spies, and anyone who loves a real-life thriller.

–I received this copy from NetGalley but the opinions are my own

#TheUnexpectedSpy @StMartinsPress

More spy books

Book Review: Spy for Hire

Spycraft–Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs

3 Thrillers With Strong Male Characters

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.


47 thoughts on “A Memoir–About a Young Female CIA Spy

  1. Pingback: Top 2020 Book Reviews (and #Goodreads rundown) | WordDreams...

    • This was one I didn’t like so much at first (seemed to light) and then loved it (seemed perfect). This is why I try not to put a book down until I’m finished.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Would you believe that I often can’t follow political spy novels. Ha ha. For some reason, I get confused. This sounds interesting though, Jacqui. Not a typical spy, at least not as I envision them. Thanks for the recommendation and Happy Reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is definitely more memoir than spy. The work she does collecting intel is secondary to her interactions with others as she works. Pretty interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t have been friends with her in college (the sorority stuff) but really grew to respect her. I liked that growth.


  3. for some reason i couldn’t comment on the previous post – as a teacher, i’m making the online transition and things are going well—thanks for the resources
    the most difficult thing is getting assignments turned in (slow internet) and cheating… but a creative teacher can think of ways to discourage it and douse it!

    also wanted to thank you for visiting my Beast World campaign at Juneta’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad to hear the remote teaching is working. I just finished a class with a lot of teachers who are still struggling with it. We spent most of our time on that topic. It’s coming, though. We are a smart profession.


  4. This looks like just the book for me and I will order it from Amazon right away. I’ve always been fascinated by spies and one of the highlights of my trip to the US was a visit to the Spy Museum in DC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It helps that she has a prominent publisher. They reached out to me with a very organized launch of this book and the reviews. Pretty cool really.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jacqui – sounds a great read … especially as you say ‘Tracy just shares what she did. No lectures, moralizing, or pontificating.’ – that’s what we need … so we can think for ourselves, while noting how others lead their lives. Thanks – take care – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was so happy about that. I got to the part where I actually tensed up, fearing a lecture was starting, and it didn’t! That among other reasons got it the 5/5

      Liked by 1 person

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