Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving or riding my bike.
Jason Matthews is a very competent story teller, maintaining tension and interest throughout this very contemporary treatment of the nearly century old Russo/American espionage tango. He very effectively ushers us into the world of spying trade craft and introduces us to the grey scale palette of motivation and ethical rationalization which goes with it. I had no problem relaxing and letting his developing plot carry me along for eighteen hours. I believed the story; I liked the characters I was supposed to like and I detested those I was meant to despise. All very neat and effective.
Still, when I reached the end, I realized that I had never been either surprised or intensely engaged. Nor was I ever challenged or unsettled in the way I have come to expect from Greene or le Carre. This is story telling as diversion, and even though it spends a lot of effort explaining the emotional turmoil of the protagonists, it never really managed to bring me closer than arms length to the characters. This in spite of consistently expert reading by Jeremy Bobb.
I suspect we will be hearing more from these characters, and I will probably read the next installment if there is one. There are not that many espionage authors out there who write with this level of command, and this is a beginning. Who knows where it may lead.
Gripping to end
I kept finding excuses to drive errands so that I could keep listening.
Gable was my favorite character.
KGB sparrow goes raptor.
Great characters and plot.
I don't normally read spy novels, but I love James Bond and Mission Impossible movies, and hubby and I were going to be listening on a road trip, so I opted for this book that sounded part spy novel, part romance.
It is written by a real intelligence agent apparently, and I can believe it, as the book had amazing details about how spies move, think, operate. These details made the story richer and fascinating, in my opinion.
The romance was definitely in there, but the reason I can't call the story really a romance has to do with the way the book was written: There is little dialogue, with the narrator telling you what characters are doing, feeling, thinking. That, plus the narrator's even, cool tone of voice kept the reader/listener at more of a distance. The romance was one aspect among many in the plot, no more no less.
I got caught up in the story because of the author's ability to build the characters (and fast!) and to make you feel you're right there. I think the story was somewhat predictable, which is strange for a spy novel (and to a newbie spy reader at that) but that did not detract at all from wanting to know the details of how it was going to play out.
I'm not sure how to rate the narrator, whether it was his reading or the author's "voice" (style of writing) coming through. The narrator was easy to understand and got inflections right on emotions when there was dialogue but overall he used an almost monotone or rather mono-emotion delivery with a cadence and pacing that was superimposed almost over the story. It did not detract from nor aid the story. In a way, it was perfectly fitting that it was cold ad distant, seeming to just "tell it like it is." Was his voice entertaining, no.
One issue I had with the audible experience was that the author tended to start chapters with this format: Mr. Smith, seeing that it was noon, headed out and.....That's not from the book! But starting the chapter with a name, and often the name is Russian and they all sound the same to me, means that I don't hear it at first and then a sentence or two later I'm wondering who is doing the action. In a printed book you can go back and look (and I also have a good visual memory) but you can't do that with an audible version (hard to find the right place to go back to) so at times I just had to listen and work it out.
Both hubby and I looked forward to getting back in the car after a pit stop to hear what happened next, so it worked great for our road trip!
Great plot, great pacing.
Right up there with the best, I could have done this one in just one sitting! Even the recipes seemed sinister as read in the dead pan narrators style. Somehow it really works. As the character sees things in colors, I tend to see things in flavors so this tour of exotic locals in terms of food really appeals!
Mr Matthews has a great career ahead! There is room for improvement in the sex and violence scenes. The sex is a little boring and violence of the torture scenes needlessly graphic. Sometimes less detail is more effectively chilling.
Having said that, this is a fast, well developed and very tightly plotted novel. Right up there with Silva, Le Carte et al, don't miss it!
All in all worth the credit, unputdownable 9 out of 10! I can't wait for the next one!
I think I will need to buy this one in print also since I do want to make some of the recipes!
I love books!
First time author for me and debut novel for James Matthews. It was a page gurner and I couldn't put it down. The author is a retired CIA officer and got much of the book from his background. This is a classic Russia versus the USA and it's current day. The author must've written this book 2-3 years ago but the event he decscribes are the ones going on right now in Ukraine and elsewhere. He states that Russia misses being a superpower and now being considered second class. Vladimir Putin's goal is to creat a USSR vesrion 2.0. With this backdrop the author creates some interesting characters on both sides and an intense, hard hitting story of spy versus spy. Using current events makes it even more plausible. The author is supposedly writing a second book using these characters, I'll look forward to it.
This is one of the best books I have read in years. The story is edge of you seat suspense, with a spy style love story mixed in. The writer worked for the CIA so it just doesn't get more realistic. Narration is excellent. This book left me racing back to the computer to see if Jason Matthews had other books. I could not believe this was his first. Destined to become a must read classic.
Red Sparrow is the debut novel from retired CIA retiree with 33 years experience. It has a certain ring of authenticity throughout. Good thing he can write also!
A few things that set this book apart from other spy novels (for better or for worse):
1. The main character has a "sixth-sense" that allows her instincts to 'sense' what another personality is feeling (ie., anger, betrayal, deceit, lust, etc...).
She can see another person's "aura" which shows their true "colors" and this aura flares when agitated regardless of other outward appearances by the person. This would give an obvious advantage to the person who could read this aura. This didn't particularly bother me, as I just put it down as a literary form to express heightened instincts that were visible to the character and reader, or etc...I could see how this might bother other readers though, as it borders on the supernatural or silly when in the context of a serious espionage novel, but it was fine.
2. Each chapter ended with a recipe for a food that was tasted by the main characters somewhere in the previous chapter.
I actually enjoyed this aspect, although other reviewers had stated an annoyance or the superfluity of it. Being a spy novel it could easily be seen as a way to pass information to a knowing party, where another party would see it only as mundane information. Another reason I liked the recipes included, is because they were interesting. They added a dimension to the story that I often listen for: sights, sounds, SMELLS, tastes, etc...
The author really seemed to love cooking and the food sounded really tasty at times! I didn't think this was overdone either, as the recipe normally took about one-two minutes to recite.
It was otherwise a satisfying spy novel, and the conclusion was somewhat unique. I would highly recommend to fans of this genre.
Favorites: Invention of Wings, Cutting for Stone, All the Light We Cannot See
Everything: characters, plot, narration.
Lot of twists and turns. Hard to stop listening.
The red sparrow.
Intelligent spy thriller
Other books I've liked, so readers can get a sense of my taste: Gone Girl, Suspect, Guilty Wives, Witness, The Unlikely Spy, Cutting for Stone, most Daniel Silva, most John Le Carre. I wish other reviewers would put their top likes as well.
This is a great espionage novel, masterfully read. Deep characters, intricate plot, high quality suspense. I’m happy that 2/3 through, the seduction portions are very powerful support for the story, but few and far between. What great about the story is those few events provide a huge dimension of the story without all of the “detail”, which would be distracting. The reader does an excellent job. J Bobb is superbly matched – right up there w/ “13” by RK Morgan and the Jasper FForde novels which are very well matched with readers.
Really enjoying the story - love to see just how the plot is unfolding at every turn.
I felt like I was in Russia, in the SVR.
Reality in fiction. Compared to other espionage books, this seems more real.