The start of a major career! A gripping, highly commercial espionage thriller written with the delicious insider detail and up-to-the-minute insight only known to a veteran CIA spook.
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.w
©2013 Jason Matthews (P)2013 Simon & Schuster Audio
After a 33 year career working as a covert operative with the C.I.A., Matthews no doubt could have written an intriguing best seller about his days of espionage. But evidenced by this debut novel, Matthews not only knows his tradecraft, he has the writing chops to produce better than a one time tell-all. In the tradition of other great former spy-turned-novelists, Fleming, McCarry, le Carré -- Red Sparrow is a smart, tightly constructed novel that lays out such an information-packed, step by step foundation, that the listener feels complicit in the Cold War cat and mouse. Worthy of comparisons to the aforementioned authors...and with just enough playfulness to apparently keep it out of the Federal shredders.
This is the caliber of novel you expect from a veteran author -- or should I say "seasoned" author? Included at the end of each chapter is the recipe for some exotic dish that one of the characters has been noshing on -- an addition that has some critic's calling the bonus recipe a distraction and an unnecessary and gimmick. (I say if James Bond can have Pussy Galore, a razor brimmed bowler hat, and exploding toothpaste - Matthews can give his readers recipes.) Ignore these effete literary snobs; Matthew intentionally provided them with a bull's eye, saying in an interview he did, "The real world of intelligence work is a lot of waiting, analysis, research, so I had to insert some excitement in the fictional plot." Until reading the interview, I had wondered if a clue was provided in each recipe; every element of this story is so well constructed it would make sense--but not so...sometimes a red herring is just a red herring.
Also raising a critical eyebrow is the synesthete seductress (she sees colors around people), Russian intelligence officer Dominika. Her aura-enhanced vision however, is blessedly not an X-man-ish superpower, but an actual phenomenon that some people claim to experience (including author Vladim Nabokov). The condition is used as an ineffectual trait that adds interest to her character without really affecting her performance or the story. This was a bigger issue than the recipe, and I'm still chewing on that element being thrown into classic spy fiction...wondering if Matthews has future plans with this fascinating female spy.
The detail here is absorbing; the treachery and deceit will have you wide-eyed and tense, paranoid about dotting an "i" (the dot could be the message!). Maybe the recipes were at least a hint about how to enjoy this novel...This kind of from the ground up detailing takes time; the tension builds slowly, like the warm kettle of water that slowly comes to a boil and catches/cooks that proverbial frog...when it starts to bubble it is fast and furious. And unblinkingly vicious.
A difficult novel to narrate, with the Russian characters, dialogue, and terms, and Jeremy Bobb adds an understated panache to the story with his reading. Great read/highly recommend to fans of spy fiction. Best case scenario: Matthews continues with this character and his unique style and *packaging* (I, for one, would love the cookbook).
Constant mind games keep the listener thinking of the next possible move. This book almost puts you in the shoes of the young intelligence agents. Very gripping and very well written. Two thumbs way up.
I'd compare it to the TV show Homeland
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
The next generation of spy-turned-spy novelist is here. Joining Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Ian Flemming, John le Carré, James Church, (and maybe -- if my suspicions are correct -- Robert Littell and Olen Steinhauer too), Jason Matthews shows that most of the best spy fiction is actually written by former spies/spooks.
While not a perfect espionage novel (using recipes to separate the chapters seems a little overcooked and trite), the Red Sparrow is still an amazing debut novel. When the novel gets away from acrobatic sex and ethnic food and instead sticks with spy craft, agent development, mole detection, etc., it is brilliant. 'Red Sparrow' easily fits into the same stature of post-Cold War spy thrillers that are currently only produced by le Carré, Steinhauer, Littell, and Church.
So yes, it isn't exactly spy literature, but it is a fun and diversionary summer read that mixes a low brow Bond (sexy limping vixens and absurdly wicked villains) with more high brow Smiley (complexity of motivations and opacity of belief). This mixture could have almost sunk the novel, but Matthews pulls it off with a bold flourish that is both surprising and enjoyable. Thanks @Melinda for the recommendation.
Smart and offering authentic spycraft detail accompanied by literary and psychological complexity and craftmanship,. With the boldness and sophisticated story-telling that made it cat-nip for a major film studio auction, Jason Matthews pulls off a rare combination of tension and romance. The menu of dishes at the end of each chapter, featuring a surprising blend of communist and capitalistic cuisine, is a playful and amusing counterpoint to the tension and real-life drama of the story. The narrator is brilliant in not overplaying the characters yet managing to convey the essence of each.person's life force. Perhaps, the best espionage thriller I have ever read!
Use books for escape- typically avoid nonfiction. Enjoy action-romance, espionage/military, sci-fi. Skilled writing is most important.
Summary- solid writing, interesting characters, captivating story, but not appropriate for everyone due to sometimes violent situations
Well researched, concise yet rich writing, and intriguing characters make this one of my favorite audio books. Nearly 18 hours long, I expected to get impatient before reaching the end; but, the pace of this spy thriller kept me invested until the last word. Matthews does a beautiful job providing details without 'data dumps'. In other words, the reader learns about the characters, situations, and locales naturally through dialog and action rather than monotonous descriptions. This writer reminds me of Ken Follett.
The plot takes absorbing turns. I won't say anymore on that to avoid spoilers - but it was exceptional. Some might not enjoy this sometimes grim story of hard people who survive by telling lies and remaining emotionally distant.
The narrator's voice and speaking style fits the story. His Russian was convincing, a real professional.
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.
I would strongly recommend this book. The plot and characters are well developed.
Yes. The author adds some great twists to the plot including the ending
I am moved by the character Korchnoy (sp) and the relationship he develops with Dominica
From 4/12/15 on, I will only rate a book 5 stars if it so good I will listen to it again. To date, the Bino series tops that list.
It's not surprising Jason Matthews is a former agent, because this book rates with the best of the best. The inner workings and politics of the CIA are realistic, smart and edgy. Best of all, Red Sparrow kept me on the edge of my seat. I finished this in 2 days!
The characters are distinct and well developed. The story is so relevant to today's political climate and so well done I kept thinking it was real.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is how the FBI and CIA really work together. It's not a great relationship though its clear from Matthews perspective they respect each other.
At the end of any chapter where a meal plays into the story, the author provides a recipe! Very clever as they seem so good I want the hard copy!
The narration is superb.
This is an easy 5 star listen.
List of favorite books: Woodcutter - Reginald Hill, Consent to Kill, First Deadly Sin - Lawrence Sanders, Sniper Elite - Scott McEwen
To try and put it words...... It wasn't enough of any one thing. I see why people liked it - But I don't know why it was loved by most. It was a spy novel without too much mystery. A CIA novel without enough assassinations. A love story that didn't have enough connection. I didn't hate it - But I surely didn't love it...... What can I say?
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!
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