A Spy at Home is not the kind of book I usually choose to read. Nonetheless, as a new book review blogger it is flattering to be asked to review a book by a writer who visits your website. So I set off to read it, and discovered a new sub-genre: the international spy thriller/domestic drama with a strong central character who just happens to have Down syndrome. Joseph Rinaldo knows what he’s talking about. From his website biography, I’m guessing that he himself has a child with Down syndrome, and he has experienced all of the highs and lows associated with raising a special needs child. At the heart of the story, Garrison and his wife Louisa are living with Noah, their adult Down son whom they adopted as a baby. Garrison’s career as a CIA operative takes him away from Louisa and Noah for long months at a time, infiltrating rebel groups in countries of political unrest, and putting his life in constant danger. After one such assignment, Garrison hatches a plan to steal nine million dollars from the CIA and largely succeeds, though gaining sudden wealth does anything but make life easier, in this case. From this point, tension builds as the family tries to decide what to do with the money and how to avoid being caught.
Had Rinaldo used the embezzlement plot line as his main story arc, this book would have been more successful. However, Garrison’s thrill at getting away with his theft and Louisa’s plan to give the money to a charity, if they can figure out how to do it, are overshadowed by a number of disparate plot elements that leave the reader confused as to what this story is actually about. The family decides to spend part of their money purchasing a vacation home in Martinique, and Rinaldo spends a good part of the book shuffling them back and forth between their home in Tennessee and the vacation home, where, well, nothing really happens. Many pages in the book are spent talking about fishing, one of Noah’s favorite activities. (If you fish, perhaps these passages will work for you.) There were several overly dramatic events that seemed thrown in simply to ramp up the drama, and in effect, add confusion: heart surgery for Noah, a house break-in and an accidental death, and a surprise cancer diagnosis that was just one blow too many to keep the story believable. One of the truly tragic elements, the onset of Noah’s Alzheimer’s and Garrison’s heartfelt reactions to his memory loss, would have had more emotional impact with less drama surrounding it. In the end, we are teased throughout the story that Garrison is on the verge of being caught for stealing the money, but ultimately, that plot line fizzles out. The story arc that seemed promising in the beginning turns out to be a disappointment.
Rinaldo did an unusual and brave thing, however. He wrote his story in second person, a potentially risky point of view that often doesn’t work. Here, it does. By addressing the reader directly, he creates an intimate relationship that establishes Garrison’s character right away. Even when Garrison makes irrational choices, like stealing nine million dollars, the reader sympathizes with him and believes that he did the right thing. Garrison’s love for his wife and son are genuine, and the reader will love them as well. As a main character with Down syndrome, Noah is a big part of the story, and Rinaldo excels in presenting all the experiences of living and caring for a person with special needs. He does not shy away from the difficulties, but he also goes out of his way to spotlight the joys of life with Noah.
A Spy at Home is well-written, well-researched, and its heart is in the right place. It may not be my kind of book, but I’m sure it will strike a chord with many readers. You can learn more about Joseph Rinaldo here, and purchase the e-book here.