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G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Publishers Since 1838

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC


Copyright © 2021 by Alma Katsu

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Katsu, Alma, author.

Title: Red widow : a novel / Alma Katsu.

Description: New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons, [2021] | Summary: “An exhilarating spy thriller about two women CIA agents who become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division—one that’s coming from inside the agency”—Provided by publisher.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020049599 (print) | LCCN 2020049600 (ebook) | ISBN 9780525539414 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780525539438 (ebook)

Subjects: GSAFD: Suspense fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3611.A7886 R44 2021 (print) | LCC PS3611.A7886 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020049599

LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020049600

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design: Tal Goretsky

Cover image: (woman, composite) André Schuster & Aurelia Frey / plainpicture


To Anthony Olcott

Colleague and friend, missed by all who knew him



Also by Alma Katsu

Title Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four


About the Author




The gentleman in seat 2D was in medical distress when he boarded, the flight attendant is sure of it.

He was the first on the plane, leading the rush of premium club members. She noticed he was already having trouble, stumbling in the narrow aisle, sweat visible on his face. He shoved his overnight bag into her arms to stow for him and asked for a drink right away, a vodka neat. She is used to this kind of treatment from business class passengers, especially on this hop from JFK to Reagan National, which is often full of VIPs, senators and businessmen. He looks to her like a politician, the worst of all. She knows better than to argue with him.

She brings him a glass of water, too, even though he didn’t ask for it, in case he needs to cool off or take medication. He’s not in great shape—three hundred pounds easy, squeezed into a suit at least two sizes too small. His face is pale, but there’s a deep flush creeping up from under his collar.

He grumbles to himself throughout the boarding process, but is otherwise quiet. His cell phone is clutched in one hand as the rest of the passengers squeeze by, his face turned to the tiny window, shunning any possibility of contact. He pays no attention through the safety demonstration but then again no one does anymore, and the flight attendant stopped taking offense long ago.

As the plane taxis onto the runway, she checks the manifest. His name is Yaromir Popov and he came to JFK via an Aeroflot flight from Heathrow. A Russian businessman, then.

No sooner has the Airbus A330 lifted into the night sky than the Russian starts having problems. From the jump seat in the galley, the flight attendant sees his face has turned bright pink and that he’s having difficulty breathing. Could he be choking on something? He hasn’t pressed the call button so it might just be garden variety anxiety. Takeoffs are the worst for many passengers. She counts the minutes until the fasten seat belt signs go off.

The flight to Washington, D.C., will be quick. Because the plane is barely one-third full, the airline cut back on flight attendants. Tonight, it’s just her and another woman, the bare minimum. Still, there’s plenty for them to take care of and she doesn’t think about Popov again until it’s time to take drink orders. By then, he’s gotten worse. He is shaking in his seat and on the verge of convulsions. His eyes bulge, and his bright red face is shiny from sweat.

She is glad the cabin is dark and the plane practically empty. She doesn’t want to alarm the rest of the passengers. Most have their heads down anyway, trying to catch a quick nap on the ninety-minute trip.

She leans over him, bringing her face close to his so she can check for the smell of alcohol. “Are you okay, sir? Is there something I can do for you?”

He opens his mouth but no words come out, only a gurgling, choking noise.

Something’s seriously wrong. Her pulse immediately quickens. She’s never had to give emergency medical aid on a plane and she frantically tries to recall what she’s supposed to do next. Loosen his tie? Check his airway for obstructions? Signal for the other flight attendant to come help her?

Bubbles form in the saliva that coats his lips, like a rabid dog. She darts into the galley for another plastic cup of water which he gulps down greedily but it does nothing to help him to speak. The shaking increases; it is like he is riding his own personal wave of turbulence. There is a strangled look of panic in his eyes—he knows something is very wrong—but stubbornly keeps trying to speak, as though he is determined to give a message to her.

Spooked, she leaps to her feet and sprints for the cockpit. She knocks on the door and waits for the click of the lock as it disengages before popping her head in. The pilot

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