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
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
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).
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I'll start with the important stuff; Written extremely well, interesting style with a great inside feel, characters are great and the chemistry built between them works and brings you into the lives of the players on an emotional level, the narration is a perfect match for this book and feels right for the age and position of the characters, there is suspense and a lot of effort put into the character development phase, and it does not bog down as some books do, instead it helps you understand the trade craft involved in this very delicate and dangerous game. This book has all the elements to make it a classic of the genre, one of the best like it out there for international espionage - Highly recommended.
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
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
I was/am a great dad, but my girls are in Sugar Land Tx and Billings Mt!
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.
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!
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