Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Published by Scribner on June 4, 2013
Series: Red Sparrow Trilogy, #1
Genre(s): fiction, mystery, thriller
Format & Pages: hardcover, 431
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In the grand spy-tale tradition of John le Carré comes this shocking thriller written with insider detail known only to a veteran CIA officer.
In present-day Russia, ruled by blue-eyed, unblinking President Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency’s most important Russian mole.
Spies have long relied on the “honey trap,” whereby vulnerable men and women are intimately compromised. Dominika learns these techniques of “sexpionage” in Russia’s secret “Sparrow School,” hidden outside of Moscow. As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and—inevitably—forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are made and broken, Dominika and Nate’s game reaches a deadly crossroads. Soon one of them begins a dangerous double existence in a life-and-death operation that consumes intelligence agencies from Moscow to Washington, DC.
Page by page, veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrowdelights and terrifies and fascinates, all while delivering an unforgettable cast, from a sadistic Spetsnaz “mechanic” who carries out Putin’s murderous schemes to the weary CIA Station Chief who resists Washington “cake-eaters” to MARBLE, the priceless Russian mole. Packed with insider detail and written with brio, this tour-de-force novel brims with Matthews’s life experience, including his knowledge of espionage, counterintelligence, surveillance tradecraft, spy recruitment, cyber-warfare, the Russian use of “spy dust,” and covert communications. Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Red Sparrow is a masterful spy tale lifted from the dossiers of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Authentic, tense, and entertaining, this novel introduces Jason Matthews as a major new American talent.
I hadn’t heard of Red Sparrow before seeing a preview for its movie adaptation but it looked so interesting I decided to pick the book up before watching the movie.
“It’s a spy movie, for Christ’s sake.”
A true spy novel, Red Sparrow is a story of espionage that follows modern day American and Russian agents as they pursue each other across the world. Matthews’s CIA background is quite clear through the sheer amount of detail that helped bring this story to life. On the other hand, sometimes the details became overwhelming to the point of slowing the story down. I also was surprised and confused to see a recipe at the end of every chapter. (If someone can explain the purpose of this, please let me know!) That being said, in the end I was entertained and found myself excited to see how it would translate to screen.
This was a case where the movie was well adapted from book to screen, condensing some sections and removing some storylines entirely. The more tightly edited plot and faster pace of the movie was more to my liking but constricted the amount of time necessary to build chemistry between the main characters. And the ending took a twist that I did not expect!
I won’t go into more details so as not to spoil anything, the blurb gives you all the information you need going in. I will say that both the book and movie are decidedly graphic, with both sex and torture scenes that may make some uncomfortable. Fans of spy thrillers will enjoy digging into the details of the trade in the book. If you prefer your spy stories with more action and a faster pace, try the movie instead.