Red Sparrow: A Novel (1) (The Red Sparrow Trilogy) - book cover
Thrillers & Suspense
  • Publisher : Scribner; 1st Edition
  • Published : 04 Jun 2013
  • Pages : 448
  • ISBN-10 : 1476706123
  • ISBN-13 : 9781476706122
  • Language : English

Red Sparrow: A Novel (1) (The Red Sparrow Trilogy)

Now a major motion picture starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton!

"A great and dangerous spy-game is being played today between Russian intelligence and the CIA. Very few people know about it, but Jason Matthews does, and his thrilling Red Sparrow takes us deep inside this treacherous world. He's an insider's insider. And he is also a masterful storyteller. I loved this book and could not put it down. Neither will you." -Vince Flynn

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.

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 Sparrow delights, 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". Packed with insider detail, this novel brims with Matthews's life experience of espionage, counterintelligence, spy recruitment, and cyber-warfare. Brilliantly composed, Red Sparrow is a masterful spy tale. Authentic, tense, and entertaining, this novel introduces Jason Matthews as a major new American talent.

Editorial Reviews

"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

"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

"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

"Fans of the genre's masters including John Le Carre and Ian Fleming will happily embrace Matthews' central spy." ― USA Today

"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

"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)

"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 rev...

Readers Top Reviews

Red Sparrow is an imperfect thriller, but nevertheless worth reading. 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.
Nigel Gambles
Having recently, seen the film which I really enjoyed, I bought the book as in my experience the book is always better than the filming I was not wrong. This is a superb spy thriller slightly different to the film but that is not important. This is well written with great characters plenty of twists and turns and leaves you wanting to read the the next in the trilogy which I will definitely be doing, I can only hope it continues in the same excellent way. 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.
So good! The best book I've read in a long time. 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.
AndrewJames C Rocks
This book would be more aptly titled "Red Herring". 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.
Roger KrugerGeorgett
Things I liked about Red Sparrow: -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.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Red Sparrow 1
Twelve hours into his SDR Nathaniel Nash was numb from the waist down. His feet and legs were wooden on the cobblestones of the Moscow side street. It had long since gotten dark as Nate ran the surveillance detection route designed to tickle the belly hairs of surveillance, to stretch them, to get them excited enough to show themselves. There was nothing, not a hint of units swirling, leapfrogging, banging around corners on the streets behind him, no reaction to his moves. Was he black? Or was he being had by a massive team? In the nature of The Game, not seeing coverage felt worse than confirming you were covered in ticks.

Early September, but it had snowed between the first and third hours of his SDR, which had helped cover his car escape. Late that morning, Nate bailed out of a moving Lada Combi driven by Leavitt from the Station, who, as he calculated the gap, wordlessly held up three fingers as they turned a corner onto an industrial side street, then tapped Nate's arm. FSB trailing surveillance, the Federal Security Service, didn't catch the escape in the three-second interval and blew past Nate hiding behind a snowbank, Leavitt leading them away. Nate left his active cover cell phone from the Embassy economic section with Leavitt in the car-the FSB were welcome to track the phone between Moscow's cell towers for the next three hours. Nate had banged his knee on the pavement when he rolled, and it had stiffened up in the first hours, but now it was as numb as the rest of him. As night fell, he had walked, slid, climbed, and scrambled over half of Moscow without detecting surveillance. It felt like he was in the clear.

Nate was one of a small group of CIA "internal ops" officers trained to operate under surveillance on the opposition's home ground. When he was on the street working against them, there was no doubt, no introspection. The familiar fear of failing, of not excelling, disappeared. Tonight he was running hot and cool, working well. Ignore the cold that wraps around your chest, pushing tight. Stay in the sensory bubble, let it expand under the stress. His vision was acute. Focus on the middle distance, look for repeat pedestrians and vehicles. Mark colors and shapes. Hats, coats, vehicles. Without thinking much about it, he registered the sounds of the darkening city around him. The zing of the electric buses running on the overhead wires, the hiss of car tires on wet pavement, the crackling of coal dust underfoot. He smelled the bitterness of diesel fumes and burning coal in the air and, from some unseen exhaust vent, the loamy aroma of beet soup cooking. He was a tuning fork resonating in the frosty air, keyed and primed, but strangely calm. After twelve hours he was as sure as he could be: He was black.

Time check: 2217. Twenty-seven-year-old Nate Nash was two minutes away from meeting the legend, the jewel in the tiara, the most valuable asset in CIA's stable. Only three hundred meters from the quiet street where he would meet MARBLE: sophisticated, urbane, in his sixties, major general in the SVR, which was the successor to the KGB's First Chief Directorate, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the Kremlin's overseas spies. MARBLE had been in harness for fourteen years, a remarkable run considering that Cold War Russian sources survived an average of eighteen months. The grainy photos of history's lost agents clicked behind Nate's eyes as he scanned the street: Penkovsky, Motorin, Tolkachev, Polyakov, all the others, all gone. Not this one, not on my watch. He would not fail.

MARBLE was now chief of the Americas Department in the SVR, a position of colossal access, but he was old-school KGB, had earned his spurs (and general's star) during an overseas career spectacular not only for its operational triumphs, but also because MARBLE had survived the purges and reforms and internal power struggles. He did not delude himself as to the nature of the system he was serving, and he had grown to loathe the charade, but he was a professional and loyal. When he was forty, already a colonel and serving in New York, the Center refused permission to take his wife to an American oncologist, a mindless display of Soviet intransigence, and she died instead on a gurney in a Moscow hospital corridor. It took MARBLE another eight years to decide, to prepare a secure approach to the Americans, to volunteer.

As he became a foreign spy-an agent, in intelligence lexicon-MARBLE quietly and with courtly grace had spoken softly to his CIA case officers-his handlers-apologizing self-deprecatingly for the meager information he reported. Langley was stunned. ...