Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A Most Clever Girl

Author Stephanie Marie Thornton takes readers on a thrill ride inside the calculating mind of a notorious Cold War spy (Elizabeth Bentley, code name Clever Girl) in her new book out today, A MOST CLEVER GIRL.

In the spirit of John Le Carre, Stephanie brings to life the remarkable true story of a spy who worked for both Russia and the United States in the 1940s and 50s. Bentley is often credited with starting America’s Communist Red Scare, and for naming hundreds of American Communists as traitors to the state―including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the infamous American couple sentenced to death for treason.

Decades after Bentley’s death, Stephanie’s A MOST CLEVER GIRL (Berkley Trade Paperback; On Sale September 14, 2021) is the first historical novel to tell her story, exposing the ruthlessness of her Russian counterparts and the intense pressures she faced at every turn, ultimately illuminating the enormous emotional and psychological toll that she paid for her work.

Some of Bentley’s male counterparts provided similar espionage and informant work and were awarded high honors for their service by the American government. But Bentley’s story has largely been pushed under the rug. The truth of her court testimonies has constantly been called into question, despite a now-declassified report that has verified her statements. Stephanie’s novel aims to shed light on Bentley’s story and polish her somewhat tarnished reputation―while still leaving readers guessing at her motives and her version of the truth.

A MOST CLEVER GIRL opens in 1963, as college student Catherine Gray arrives unannounced on the doorstep of a woman named Elizabeth Bentley, gun in hand, demanding answers about a scandalous family secret that has just been revealed. But Catherine never expects all that Elizabeth is about to expose.

Elizabeth’s narrative takes readers through her recruitment to the American Communist Party in her youth, and how her unique education and experiences allowed her to successfully spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II. Elizabeth falls deeper into the Party when she sets off on a romance with her handler, Jacob Golos, and together, they build the largest Soviet spy network in America. But when WWII ends and the U.S. becomes embroiled in the Cold War against the U.S.S.R, all Elizabeth holds to be true is called into question and she turns to the FBI for salvation.

Elizabeth is a skilled chameleon whose story changes depending on the circumstance, making her an effective spy but also an unreliable narrator, delivering a twisty, satisfying read. Extensively researched, Thornton’s novel explores the extraordinary life of a woman who has long been forgotten by history.

A MOST CLEVER GIRL is perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network and Ericka Robuck’s The Invisible Woman.

Meet the Author: Stephanie Marie Thornton

I’m a writer and high school history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from history since I was twelve. My newest book, A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy is a thrilling novel 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.

Prior to turning my attention to the Cold War, I wrote about two women closely connected to the White House. And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis is an intimate portrait of America’s most iconic First Lady while American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt, tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s hellion of a daughter and how she became Washington’s Other Monument.

My first two novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora and Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt reimagine the lives of two of history’s forgotten women: Theodora of the Byzantine Empire and Pharaoh Hatshepsut.

My third and fourth books center around the women who stood behind the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. The Tiger Queens is the story of Genghis Khan’s wife and daughters, while The Conqueror’s Wife tells of the women who both loved and hated Alexander the Great. With my love of the ancient world, I also joined the H Team to help pen a collaborative novel, Song of War: A Novel of Troy in which I put a new spin on the story of Cassandra, King Priam’s cursed seer of a daughter.

I live with my husband and daughter in Alaska, where I’m always working on my next novel.

You can find me on Twitter as @StephMThornton and I’m also on GoodreadsFacebook, and Instagram.

Thanks everyone for stopping by today. Doesn’t this sound like an intriguing bit of history that wasn’t taught when you or I were in school?


  1. How I wish that the history I had been taught at school had been like this. But no. We got dates, battles and rulers. Sigh.

  2. This sounds really interesting! I do like reading about history, and what a fascinating chapter of history it is! The story sounds well-written, too, as though it draws the reader in and that's an even bigger bonus. Thanks for sharing, Mason.

  3. Nothing like a story with an unreliable narrator.


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