BOOK REVIEW: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

If you’ve never read a spy novel, I think I’ve found the perfect place for you to start.

Codename Villanelle follows the tried and true cat-and-mouse storyline of a British intelligence agent tracking a trained assassin around the world. The hook: the assassin is a young, rich, incredibly stylish woman who is, rather unfortunately, a complete psychopath.

After a Russian politician is murdered in London, MI6 agent Eve Polastri - a brilliantly intelligent but somewhat frumpy woman - is tasked with finding his killer. Convinced the assassin in a woman, Eve begins tracking her and tracing her origins. The hit-woman, who goes by the name Villanelle, discovers she is being followed, and becomes obsessed with outwitting Eve. The two women, who for most of the novel are separated from each other by hundreds of miles, form a bizarre and mildly endearing relationship, each finally recognizing a deserving competitor in the other.

Codename Villanelle is filled with international jet-setting, luxurious fashion, beautiful cities and scenery, and two main characters who are strange, difficult, and ultimately quite lovable.

The book, which is actually a compilation of several novellas, has been adapted for television, resulting in the widely acclaimed show Killing Eve starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh. The show, like the book, is driven by its characters and its witty, smart dialogue. The backstories - Villanelle’s in particular - are intricate, mysterious, and at times saddening. Jennings commits a fair portion of the story to exploring what it’s like for Villanelle to have grown up as a psychopath without anyone else like her to relate to. Her psychology is what ultimately makes her a compelling character.

While the story is pretty out there, with both Villanelle and Eve traveling to many countries and committing heinous acts, it feels genuine. Jennings strikes a perfect balance between the outlandish and the believable, weighing down the horrific murders with palpable human emotion.

Codename Villanelle is fun, exciting, and sure to be different from everything else you’ve picked up recently.