Red Sparrow won the 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel, and this modern spy novel is an exciting read and worthy prize winner. I don’t think it quite compares to the best work of John Le Carre, Charles McCarry or Len Deighton, but it is a very good debut novel.
I mentioned Epigraphs when posting about Colin Dexter’s The Secret of Annexe 3, well Red Sparrow is all about Experience, Espionage and Epicure.
Experience: author Jason Matthews has 33 years experience as an officer in the CIA’s Operations Directorate, now the National Clandestine Service.
Espionage: Red Sparrow is packed full of spy tradecraft, as CIA operative Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash is targeted by the beautiful Dominika Egorova, a trainee of the Sparrow School of seduction. Dominika is the niece of Vanya Egorov, Deputy Director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Foreign Intelligence Service. Nate is running a CIA mole MARBLE who is embedded deep inside the SVR, and while Dominika is attempting to recruit Nate, Nate is also trying to recruit her because of her relationship with Egorov.
Like most spy stories there are lots of complexities, and love affairs, betrayals but the characters are dealt with in a mature fashion, and the writing is of a quality that makes the 500 plus pages go smoothly. Matthews makes you care about what happens to these people. In Red Sparrow there is more thinking, and eating than shooting.
Epicure [a person who appreciates fine food and drink]: One feature I loved about the book is that every chapter ends with a recipe that refers to a meal eaten by the characters during the preceding action. These vary from simple Beet Soup to Caviar Torte to Shrimp Yiouvetsi as the action moves from Moscow to Helsinki, Washington, Rome, Athens and a climax at the Narva River.
A spy thriller with believable characters and tense situations, blended with a tempting cookbook; an original concept, and a very good read.
The Germans would have found him shuldhaft, culpable, and given him three years. The Americans would have pegged the poor sap a victim of sexpionage and sentenced him to eight years. In Russia the predatel, the traitor, would have been liquidated. French investigators handed down a stern finding of negligent. Delon was transferred home quickly-out of reach-consigened to duties without access to classified documents for eighteen months.
A beautiful woman, quoi faire? What could you do?