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Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1) Kindle Edition
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"Not since the good old days of the Cold War has a classic spy thriller like Red Sparrow come along. Jason Matthews is not making it up; he has lived this life and this story, and it shows on every page. High level espionage, pulse pounding danger, sex, double agents and double crosses. What more can any reader want?" (Nelson DeMille )
“A great and dangerous spy game is being played today between Russian intelligence and the CIA. Very few people know about it, including many of our politicians in Washington. But Jason Matthews does, and his thrilling Red Sparrow takes us deep inside this treacherous world. He’s an insider’s insider. He knows the secrets. And he is also a masterful story teller. I loved this book and could not put it down. Neither will you.” (Vince Flynn )
"Jason Matthews, who became an authority on the Kremlin during his 33 years as a CIA operations officer, has written an espionage novel, Red Sparrow, in which Putin makes a cameo read it and you too may conclude that no one on the planet knows the Russian president better. You too may also conclude that Red Sparrow is the best espionage novel you've ever read." (Keith Thomson Huffington Post)
“Veteran CIA operative turned novelist Matthews keeps the trouble popping in Red Sparrow, but relentless drama is just one of the high points of this sublime and sophisticated debut… Red Sparrow isn’t just a fast paced thriller — it’s a first rate novel as noteworthy for its superior style as for its gripping depiction of a secretive world. While many former CIA agents and MI6 operatives have turned to writing fiction in retirement, Matthews joins a select few who seem as strong at their second careers as at their first.” (Art Taylor The Washington Post)
"A primer in 21st century spying. Matthews' former foes in Moscow will be choking on their blinis when they read how much has been revealed about their tradecraft...terrifically good." (The New York Times Book Review)
"A smart, intriguing tale rooted in his own experience...Fans of the genre's masters including John Le Carre and Ian Fleming will happily embrace Matthews' central spy." (USA Today)
"This debut novel from a 33 year CIA veteran delivers action as pulse pounding as it is authentic." (New York Post)
“Matthews’s exceptional first novel will please fans of classic spy fiction…The author’s 33 year career in the CIA allows him to showcase all the tradecraft and authenticity that readers in this genre demand…[a] complex, high stakes plot.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
“The author, a veteran CIA field agent, liberally salts his thriller with realistic tradecraft, horrific villainy, and stunning plot twists as the opponents vie for control…An intense descent into a vortex of carnal passion, career brutality, and smart tradecraft, this thriller evokes the great Cold War era of espionage…Readers of bloodthirsty spy and suspense will welcome this debut from a writer who supersizes his spies.” (Library Journal, starred review)
“Many spy novelists, including Ian Fleming and John le Carré, actually worked as intelligence agents. Add to that list Jason Matthews, whose 33 years as a CIA field operative enriches his first novel with startling verisimilitude…That sense of authenticity, along with vividly drawn characters, much detail about tradecraft, and an appropriately convoluted plot make this a compelling and propulsive tale of spy versus spy…Red Sparrow is greater than the sum of its fine parts. Espionage aficionados will love this one.” (Booklist, starred review)
“I read till eleven and woke up at five a.m. to finish this book. If it doesn’t supplant The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as the next mammoth read, ad if it doesn’t take its place alongside le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the love of literature and jaw dropping thrills really is dead. I learned more about the former Soviets and the new Russians, and about our US of A, than I ever gleaned from the hardest working journalists today. Halfway through, I was afraid Vladimir Putin would find out I was reading Red Sparrow and have me arrested. I have not read a more exciting, gripping novel in a long time.” (Doug Stanton author of Horse Soldiers)
"All the tradecraft and cat and mouse tension of a classic spy thriller— a terrific read." (Joseph Kanon author of Istanbul)
About the Author
- ASIN : B008J4PK86
- Publisher : Scribner; Media Tie-In edition (June 4, 2013)
- Publication date : June 4, 2013
- Language : English
- File size : 5359 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 449 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #41,325 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Authentic detail of espionage
Red Sparrow is not a conventional spy story. True enough, it's well-written, ingeniously plotted, and endlessly suspenseful. On that account alone, fans of John le Carré, Joseph Kanon, or Alan Furst should appreciate it. But the book rises above the level of the genre because the author has infused it with detailed, intimate knowledge of authentic espionage tradecraft employed both by the CIA and by Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. Red Sparrow also reveals a great deal about the SVR's structure and practices. I was so taken aback by the level of detail that I checked a number of details at random; they all proved accurate. I can easily imagine this novel being passed around at the CIA training center known as the Farm as a fictionalized (if no doubt exaggerated) account of what an officer might encounter in the field.
Two central characters in a cat-and-cat game
The Red Sparrow of the title is Dominika Egorova, a niece of the First Deputy Director of the SVR. When an injury ends her promising career in the ballet, her uncle presses her into the intelligence service, sending her first to the standard officer training and then to "Sparrow School," where she is taught seduce enemy agents. Her assignment is to entrap and recruit Nathaniel Nash, the young CIA officer who is known to be the handler of MARBLE, a high-level mole in the SVR. "Nate was one of a small group of CIA 'internal ops' officers trained to operate under surveillance on the opposition's home ground." His assignment is to recruit her once she has managed to enter his life. The result can't be described as a cat-and-mouse game. It's a cat-and-cat game, and it's fascinating.
The supporting cast on the American side includes a pair of veteran CIA officers who assist and guide Nate as he maneuvers through his relationship with Dominika. There are also a sociopathic US Senator and a number of FBI agents who wander in and out of the background, all of them coming across as incompetent. (This no doubt reflects the ages-old suspicion between the CIA and the FBI.) On the Russian side, the leading characters include Dominika's uncle and several members of his staff at the SVR. One key figure there is a "poisonous dwarf" who serves as his counterintelligence chief. (He appears to be modeled on the five-foot-tall Nikolai Yezhov, a sadistic murderer who served for a year as head of Stalin's secret police. He was known as "The Poison Dwarf.") Vladimir Putin himself makes several cameo appearances.
About the author
Author Jason Matthews' official bio on his publisher's web site is worth quoting at length: "Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations." In other words, it should be no surprise that Jason Matthews could write a book that exhibits authentic espionage tradecraft. Red Sparrow is the first novel in a trilogy of the same name.
-The numerous acronyms, historical references, and details of spy tradecraft gave one the impression that this was an authentic insider account of espionage.
-The inclusion of many Russian words and phrases in contexts that were understandable, enabled me to add on to my meagre Russian vocabulary.
-The occasional appearance of Putin in the narrative provided a chilling reminder of what lays behind many current events.
-The tension in the spy world between using individuals merely as means to an end versus caring for them as human beings seems to a certain degree well illustrated by this book.
Things I initially like but grew tiresome:
-The inclusion of a recipe at the end of each chapter. Initially, this seemed to add a sensual flavor to the events described, but after a while it seemed the author had to struggle to find some means of including a munching event in every chapter. About midway through I began to skip these as it became too much like reading a cook book.
Things I disliked:
-Synesthesia, the ability to “see” sounds as colors, is in no way connected with the supposed ability to see auras, though the author seems to conflate the two.
-Dominika often seemed to me to be like a Barbie doll, an imaginary female that the author was merely playing with. She appeared to lack any genuine human characteristics or flaws (her temper tantrums were merely part of her “cuteness”). Similarly, Nate, despite originally portrayed as a highly skilled and intelligent spy handler, in Dominika’s presence becomes Ken-like, a puppy dog accoutrement to Barbie.
-Perhaps in the effort to make this a page-turner, the world of espionage is made to appear glamorous with visits to world class cities and numerous adrenaline pumping adventures, while in fact it most likely is filled with tedium and boredom, as more accurately portrayed in the novels by John le Carre.
-You can always tell the bad guys in this book. They all have some physical defect. This seems a huge slight to the many people who are handicapped in some way. Because one appears abnormal does not make them evil.
-Nearly all the men seemed to delight in “locker room” banter. This did not make them endearing to me as it appeared the author intended. It gave me new understandings of why some male dominated cultures are hostile and often abusive to women employees.
Matthews’ facility with language is amazing and precise. His writing paints images rich in color and emotion. The world-building is excellent.
The humor. Hero Nate Nash has two bosses, Marty Gable and Tom Forsythe. Gable’s sarcastic remarks, belied by his supportive actions, are truly funny. Heroine Dominika Egarova also thinks of her cruel superiors in hilariously rude terms. And the Sparrow School of seductive spycraft they blackmail her into attending (“training for ‘prostitutkas’, not staff officers,” she protests) teaches a list of techniques expressed in amusing metaphorical terms.
The characters are extremely well developed. There are many, but I never got confused because each has a distinct personality.
Complex plotting. Matthews skillfully conveys the conflict that arises when those who give orders have different priorities than those who put their lives on the line. The intriguing plot includes plenty of violence, tricky spycraft, and suspense.
I felt neutral about:
Nate and Dominika’s relationship. As they are mostly separated by thousands of miles, disparate governments, and secrecy, it’s minor.
The short recipes at chapter ends. I skipped over them.
While not exactly abrupt, the ending is an obvious segue into the second novel, but getting there was such a pleasure, I wasn’t upset.
Top reviews from other countries
Factually inaccurate on so many levels, without any sign of coherent writing flow.
pg15...."and Vanya went back to Yasneneco first as Third Deputy Director, then second, until last year, when he moved into the First Deputy Director's office, across the carpeted hallway from the Director's office..."
...what...? If this was an isolated paragraph I'd be happy enough. But the whole book seems to be written in this lumpy and confused narrative, who's meaning and context can only be fully absorbed after 3 or 4 readings of the same paragraph. I paid for entertainment. I got the exact opposite. Chore-some at best.
I managed just 25 pages of this drivel, before throwing it in the garden. Sorely disappointed.
How this could even be considered on the same comparison scale to a Le Carre is beyond belief.
I was captivated and enthralled by this book, and impressed by the author's evident, in-depth knowledge of the intelligence services and their methods. The product description on Amazon summarises just how great this book is, so I do not need to add to this other than to mention the wonderfully descriptive, original metaphors that had me reading many of them more than once, just to savour them.
I have learned only recently that this book will soon be released as a film. I think the plot and the action should translate very well, and Jennifer Lawrence is ideally suited to the role of Dominika. However, I doubt that cinematography and acting skills can entirely replace the eloquence of the book. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing the film.
I have already added the next book in the Red Sparrow trilogy to my Kindle.
'Red Sparrow' by Jason Matthews (2013)"Red Sparrow" is a classic spy yarn with authentic seeming tradecraft set against a continuation of the cold war which has continued, "business as usual" into the Putin era based, presumably, on the author's experience as a CIA operative. It is his attention to detail, his quirky use of language (including Russian) that raises this book above the bar. With a scope ranging across Russia, Sweden and the US, the book has a lot of fast paced action, from characters on foot trying to avoid roving patrols to car tails and chases. The book started slowly, quite difficult to get into, with the author's style hard to adapt to but, by a third of the way in, I was very glad I stuck it out.
Although I was able to guess some of upcoming twists, I was generally only able to do so close to when they happened and, in general, the suspense in the book was good. There was a significant amount of violence in the book most notably when a particular Russian assassin is involved. The romance between the two lead characters, Egorov and Nash, was well handled.
Nate Nash is a young, keen CIA operative working out of the US embassy in Moscow. He is idealistic, ambitious, calm in a crisis and fluent in Russian. He handles the Russian double agent, MARBLE, an asset who is high in the Russian Foreign Services, trying to keep him secret as he supplies information to the CIA. Nash's story starts in Moscow where we meet Nate and MARBLE. The Russians are aware that they have a mole but have yet to identify them so they set a trap is set from which Nash and MARBLE narrowly escape but Nash gets identified as a foreign agent. As a consequence Nash is posted to a remote CIA office in Helsinki where he meets his new no-nonsense boss, Forsyth, and his quick-witted and sarcastic colleague, Gable. It is in Helsinki, that Nash meets Egorov, someone they hope to make their asset and to whom they give the code name DIVA.
Egorov, a beautiful ex-ballerina with a tragic background, is a synesthete; she sees the moods of others as coloured auras. Vibrant, sultry and independent by nature she is forced into a world where she becomes hard, unflinching and increasingly alone. Egorov is angry, resentful and conflicted; she still loves her country but feels exploited when "Uncle Vanya" enrols her in the Russian Foreign Services. Vanya gets her sent to "Sparrow School" where she is trained in the arts of seduction and blackmail but, "graduating" early, she is given her first mission, to unmask MARBLE. Sent to Helsinki, Egorov makes an unwilling spy but her synaesthesia is her big advantage. In Helsinki she meets Nate Nash and the two engage in a cat and mouse game with each trying to make the other an asset, both competing with each other to find their respective moles, but the ultimately the two realise that what they really want is each other and they fall into an affair. The affair is brutally ended and the lovers are parted.
I enjoyed reading "Red Sparrow". It's a well plotted espionage thriller even if it's somewhat black and white, the US side mainly featuring flawed good guys, the Russian side featuring flawed baddies that seem almost set up to counterpoint the Americans.
That I liked the book is fairly clear since I've already purchased the sequels, "Palace of Treason" and "The Kremlin's Candidate".
One slightly surprising thing is the inclusion of receive at the end of each chapter, very unexpected but being a foodie a nice surprise and some nice recipes to try.
The basic premise is that two agents embark on their careers - Nate Nash is a young CIA agent, posted to Moscow and desperate to make an impact - and Dominika Egorova, enveigled into becoming a honey-trap agent by her wicked uncle in the Russian SVR. Inevitably the two hit it off.
The story is a constant flow of agents and double agents, rooting out moles and trying to use counter-espionage to double-down on double-crossing deals. It’s quite a slow moving novel which allows plenty of space for conveying the day-to-day life in modern Russia, in intelligence jobs and in embassies around the world. It also gives adequate space to ensure the complexities of the various plots and schemes are fully understood - there’s none of the last-minute breathlessness that blight so many thrillers and leave readers wondering what happened.
But there are flaws too. The slow pacing does include quite a bit of repetition. Characters are re-introduced (right down to appearances) every time they pop up in another point of view. There’s also quite a degree of salaciousness. Yes, Dominika attended Sparrow School to learn how to seduce foreign agents, but there’s a fine line between authenticity and pornography. Similarly, some of the violence feels overdone. These aspects are likely to appeal to teenage male readers but may irritate other readers.
And then there’s Dominika’s synaesthesia. She can see the colour of people’s auras which gives her a special insight into their mood/character. I never quite bought this - and given that people’s auras never seem to change colour, it may be a useful tool for baselining a relationship but doesn’t seem to offer much for telling how someone is behaving in a specific situation. Ah well, it’s a bit of fun.
Then there are the recipes at the end of each chapter. The idea is that a food mentioned in the chapter has its recipes included in a text box before the next chapter. At first this is endearing, but after a while it feels distracting - plus there’s a suspicion that some of the foods are only mentioned in the text because of the need to have a recipe.
Overall, though, the drama outweighs the negatives and the story is worth reading. I like the idea of a modern Russian secret service trying to recreate the empire of the Soviet era or, perhaps even, the czarist era. The ending manages to be both reassuringly predictable but also shocking.
Good holiday reading - especially while touring through the Stans.
I will persevere with the other novels in the trilogy.