In today’s Russia, dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a first-tour CIA officer who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow. Seeking revenge against her soulless masters, Dominika begins a fatal double life, recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington; hunt down a Russian illegal buried deep in the U.S. military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Putin’s intelligence service. Dominika and Nathaniel’s impossible love affair and twisted spy game come to a deadly conclusion in the shocking climax of this electrifying, up-to-the minute spy thriller.
Red Sparrow won the 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel, and this modern spy novel is an exciting read and worthy prize winner. I don’t think it quite compares to the best work of John Le Carre, Charles McCarry or Len Deighton, but it is a very good debut novel.
Red Sparrow is all about Experience, Espionage and Epicure.
Experience: author Jason Matthews has 33 years experience as an officer in the CIA’s Operations Directorate, now the National Clandestine Service.
Espionage: Red Sparrow is packed full of spy tradecraft, as CIA operative Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash is targeted by the beautiful Dominika Egorova, a trainee of the Sparrow School of seduction. Dominika is the niece of Vanya Egorov, Deputy Director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Foreign Intelligence Service. Nate is running a CIA mole MARBLE who is embedded deep inside the SVR, and while Dominika is attempting to recruit Nate, Nate is also trying to recruit her because of her relationship with Egorov.
Like most spy stories there are lots of complexities, and love affairs, betrayals but the characters are dealt with in a mature fashion, and the writing is of a quality that makes the 500 plus pages go smoothly. Matthews makes you care about what happens to these people. In Red Sparrow there is more thinking, and eating than shooting.
Epicure [a person who appreciates fine food and drink]: One feature I loved about the book is that every chapter ends with a recipe that refers to a meal eaten by the characters during the preceding action. These vary from simple Beet Soup to Caviar Torte to Shrimp Yiouvetsi as the action moves from Moscow to Helsinki, Washington, Rome, Athens and a climax at the Narva River.
A spy thriller with believable characters and tense situations, blended with a tempting cookbook; an original concept, and a very good read.
Review by Norman Price, CRIME SCRAPS REVIEW
About Jason Matthews:
Jason Matthews is a retired officer in CIA’s former Operations Directorate, now the National Clandestine Service. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet-East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets and, as Chief in various CIA Stations, managed covert action projects against the Weapons of Mass Destruction programs of the world’s Rogue States and collaborated with foreign liaison partners in counter terrorism operations. He lives in Southern California, USA.