In First Assignment, by Mary Snyder, rookie CIA analyst Alex Everett finds himself tapped for a "simple" assignment. He'll return to and go through the motions on a murder investigation that's already been solved by his superiors. He's supposed to make sure the right guy's found guilty... which shouldn't be a problem, since the suspect is definitely guilty, right?
Apparently his bosses didn't expect Alex's careful observation or problem-solving skills, or the extremely competent team he's assigned. His first assignment starts to get out of control as he finds mounting evidence that this simple double murder is really a triple murder with loads of surprising clues and loose ends. He also finds an old crush, resurfacing as a skilled medical examiner with a family tragedy.
The tension mounts in the investigation, because Alex is reporting back to his bosses, who want him to hurry up and reach the correct conclusion, even as he finds more and more complicating details. He can't just destroy evidence, though, he's supposed to be one of the good guys!
Alex is not just reporting back to base -- he finds himself being watched in many different ways. I loved seeing Alex trying to outsmart the bugs and followers on him at all times. Without spoilers, there are a couple charming moments when solid Midwesterners basically nod and accept communication by notepad or something else unbuggable. I really enjoyed the practical Midwest feel in a twisty, fast-paced thriller.
Alex might be inexperienced, but he's also sure that he can find the truth, even if that means playing dumb, "forgetting" his phone at key moments, and much more subterfuge. As the story unfolds, the murder of an OB-GYN in Minnesota connects to a missing soldier, to a baby not genetically related to his mother, to a takeover in the Middle East, and to an American president who calls people losers and blames the liberal media when he doesn't get what he wants. Alex has to figure out the truth fast, and figure out who's on his side.
I was slightly anxious when a section of the story had to do with Somali communities in Minneapolis, and again when the story took us to the fictional Kleebistan in the Middle East. Spy thrillers so often rely on shadowy Middle Eastern characters and cringey stereotypes from other cultures, and I was afraid this would fall into that pattern. But fortunately, in First Assignment the conflict was between honest and dishonest people in various countries, not between the all-powerful USA and some backwards baddie. (Even optimistic rookie Alex finds himself discussing whether the US really is the greatest country in the world.)
Also, there are women in this espionage suspense thriller. Women! Plural! Including middle-aged women who are highly skilled at their jobs. One's even a grandmother who likes to make homemade donuts and shop for giant icon earrings, when she's not investigating crime. And she's an incredibly good investigator, too. I didn't know older women in practical winter coats were allowed, I thought only sexy assassins and sexy secretaries were allowed in spy thrillers!
Overall, First Assignment blends a suspenseful espionage thriller with Midwestern charm and memorable characters.