RED SPARROW

January 5, 2020


If you LOVE spy vs spy, you will absolutely love Red Sparrow.  A book written by Jason Matthews.  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 a 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. He is the author of Red SparrowPalace of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate. He lives in Southern California. In other words, Mr. Matthews know whereof he speaks. 

The heroin of the book is a Russian young lady named Dominika Egorova.  Ms. Egorova is driven by her anger at the unjustness of the Russian system to become a double agent working for the CIA.  She yearned to be seen as an intelligent person with capabilities beyond her beauty and physical attractiveness. Dominika believed the Americans saw her worth and would treat her fairly where the Russians had not. Feeling used as a pawn by the Americans in a plan to replace a long-time double agent and rejected by her handler and lover Nathaniel “Nate” Nash, Dominika considered leaving her life as a spy. A violent twist at the end of the novel demonstrated the Russians’ lack of loyalty and trustworthiness and leaves the reader wondering if Dominika will reconsider her claim that she will cut ties with the Americans.

One very interesting fact—Ms. Egorova was diagnosed with synesthesia, a condition in which she could see music, words and even people’s emotions and intentions as colors. Dominika had a promising career in ballet. Her condition allowed her to follow the colors produced by the music as she danced. Shortly before an audition for the Bolshoi troupe, a jealous classmate arranged for Dominika to be injured in an accident. Dominika’s foot was broken and her career as a dancer ended. Shortly afterward, Dominika’s father died from a stroke. It was at her father’s funeral that her uncle, Vanya Egorova, proposed that she do a job for him for Russia’s secret service. He promised to take care of her mother if she cooperated.  Her mother was living in housing providing by the Russian government.  Dominika had no choice but to comply with her uncle’s wishes if she wanted to keep her widowed mother in government housing.  This leverage was used throughout the book. 

When Dominika suggested that she be sent to the SVR academy, it was deemed the perfect solution. Dominika finished her courses at the top of her class and was looking forward to a distinguished career as an officer, but her uncle instead informed her she would be going to Sparrow School. The school taught women how to seduce men in order to arrest them or elicit information from them. From that point forward, Dominika was seen by the men in the department only as a tool that could be used to seduce and draw in the men they hoped to recruit. One team leader even ruined a recruitment on which Dominika was working because she insisted she could recruit the man without the use of sex.

I absolutely loved the book.  It’s fast-moving with twists and turns that a non-CIA guy like myself certainly appreciate.  I do NOT feel it is predictable in the least although there were points in the book that were somewhat slower than others.  There are no car chases, plane crashes, mass murders, etc.  I would have liked more descriptive information relative to the incarceration Dominika experienced while in the hands of her Russian captors, the people sworn to protect her.  The Russian “spooks” really come off as terrible people interested only in advancing their own careers and providing information relative to CIA activities.   Dominika is frequently torn between hatred of the system and contributing to “mother Russia”.  

You are going to love this book, which is the first in the trilogy.  Red Sparrow, Place of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate are the books in the series.  Great read. 

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