By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews

Red sparrow by jason matthews” ‘The stupid information is, in fact, the point of what we do.  We all sacrifice to play the Game.  No one is immune.’ “

After serving in the CIA’s Operations Directorate (now known as the National Clandestine Service) for 33 years, retired officer Jason Matthews has channelled his experiences into an exquisitely complex and riveting espionage novel, Red Sparrow.  In this debut book, the Cold War may be over, but the Game is still afoot.  This spy versus spy story pits American and Russian operatives against each other in the information game.  Both countries have moles within their governments; an agent known as MARBLE has been passing along Russian secrets to the Americans for 14 years, and an unlikely agent known as SWAN has been leaking valuable information to a Russian operative in Washington, D.C.  Insider Matthews excels in his depiction of the “tradecraft” and political maneuvering that fuels this never ending chess game.

When first-tour field operative Nathaniel Nash’s cover is nearly blown during a plum assignment in Moscow, he’s exiled to the Helsinki Station of the CIA.  There he meets SVR (the Russian foreign intelligence) operative, Dominika Egorova.  In a delicious cat and mouse game, both spies try to recruit one another as agents, each unaware of the other’s ulterior motives.  Complications ensue as their attraction grows and threatens to derail their respective missions.  Matthews’s astute characterizations of people both real (Vladimir Putin) and imagined helps drive the suspense in this page-turning story.  One of the characters who blazes the most brightly is Dominika, the beautiful young ballerina who enters the male-dominated world of Russian intelligence, only to be sent to the potentially soul-crushing Sparrow School, where students learn the strategic art of seduction.  Intriguingly, she also has synesthesia, which enables her to tell when people are lying or speaking the truth (she sees a colored aura above their heads); this adds a lovely visual layer to all of the young woman’s interactions with her countrymen, as well as any potential targets.  Secondary characters, such as Dominika’s oily and ambitious Uncle Vanya, a vicious Spetsnaz assassin, and Nate’s irreverent (but brilliant) senior colleagues in Helsinki, Forsyth and Gable, add depth to the drama in this rewardingly convoluted spy story.

Yes, Red Sparrow offers a treasure trove of tradecraft details, along with some steamy episodes that fogged my reading glasses, but more importantly, it made me care about the major and minor players in this globe-trotting, high-stakes game.  Reading this action-packed book gave me a rush.  It also made me appreciate the obsessive strategizing and analysis that operatives employ in the duplicitous world that they inhabit.  Readers who enjoy espionage fiction and brainy suspense novels should check out this terrific book.


One Response to “Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews”

  1. Sounds like a great read! I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve really gotten in to the show Scandal or what, but lately I can’t get enough of books and shows set in D.C. with a suspenseful and mysterious plot. In fact I just finished reading “Publius: Libertas Aut Mors” by Baltazar Bolado, another one worth checking out! I’ll definitely be checking out this book; thanks for the recommendation!

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