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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2013 Jason Matthews (P)2013 Simon & Schuster Audio

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Sexy Saucy Spies

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).

170 of 178 people found this review helpful

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Good Spy Novel (with a few quirks)

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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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6 stars - intelligent and very well crafted

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.

28 of 31 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 06-24-13

Next generation of spy-turned-spy novelist is here

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.

53 of 60 people found this review helpful

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  • Philip
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 01-10-14

One of the Best Espionage Thrillers I've Ever Read

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!

30 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Prashant
  • Yorktown, VA, United States
  • 10-22-13

Reminds me of Homeland but offers so much more!

What made the experience of listening to Red Sparrow the most enjoyable?

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.

What other book might you compare Red Sparrow to and why?

I'd compare it to the TV show Homeland

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?


5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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One of the best spy stories I've ever read!

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.

25 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • tallevast, FL, United States
  • 02-22-14

Four across - But not exactly sure why.

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?

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Great spy novel

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would strongly recommend this book. The plot and characters are well developed.

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

Yes. The author adds some great twists to the plot including the ending

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I am moved by the character Korchnoy (sp) and the relationship he develops with Dominica

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathy
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 07-24-15

Intense and So Entertaining--a new genre for me!

I never thought I would be interested in a spy story. Red Sparrow, however, was a great listen. I am very glad that I gave this new type of novel (for me) a chance and that I stumbled across this particular book, thanks to the great reviews from other listeners. I am hovering between four and five stars and only at the end of this review will I know what I decide.

There are lots of descriptions of what the story is about, so I won't try to do my own version. I will just say that I was captured right away and spent the greater part of two days glued to my little mp3 Sport, listening. It wasn't easy finding enough things to do that could support also listening to an audiobook for those many hours!

I enjoyed the characters, all of them. They were each fascinating in their own way, the good along with the evil ones. I especially liked Dominika, who was certainly not one-dimensional and often surprised me with her behaviors. And yet, her behavior was always reasonable given her circumstances, once I thought about it for a while.

I feel this is an author that knows his stuff and he confidently shows it. He knows it from the inside, which you will learn if you read his bio. I am sure we will hear a lot more from him in the future. Additionally, the narrator did a great job, too.

So, I am giving the book 4 1/2 stars and rounding up. Highly recommended to anyone who likes spy stories and those who would like to give one a try. I will be purchasing book 2 in the series in the near future!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful