JASON MATTHEWS

January 26, 2020


If you have read any of my posts you know I believe that every writer MUST be a voracious reader.  I truly believe that.  Becoming an effective writer, and I’m admittedly far from that rarified position, necessitates one becoming obsessed with examining the work of proficient writers.  I believe it’s a must.  With that in mind, I have found an incredible “wordsmith” in Jason Matthews.  I have read all three of his books: “Red Sparrow”, “Palace of Treason” and “The Kremlin’s Candidate”.  All three marvelous reads.

Jason Matthews is a retired spy but doesn’t look like one. He more nearly resembles a high school principal: calm, patient, a little bland. The only clues to his former occupation — thirty-three (33) years with the C.I.A. — are his uncanny peripheral vision and his occasional use of terms like “ops” and “intel.”

Mr. Matthews, who is sixty-three (63) years old, is also a novelist, one in a long line of real-life spies who have written spy thrillers. The tradition goes back at least to Erskine Childers, the Irish nationalist and gun smuggler who wrote the 1903 thriller “The Riddle of the Sands,” and includes Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Stella Rimington, Charles McCarry and even E. Howard Hunt, more famous for Watergate, who all reaped great fictional dividends from the Cold War.

Mr. Matthews said he got into novel writing as “therapy.” “Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policeman or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops,” he said. “There are retiree groups that get together, mostly in Washington, and sit around and swap war stories, but I was living in California, and it was either write something or go fishing.”

He was not a trained writer, he said, but he went to journalism school before being hired by the C.I.A., and a great deal of his work there consisted of writing cables and reports. He added: “A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life, and a lot of them seem to be about a bipolar Agency guy, helped by his bipolar girlfriend, trying to chase a bipolar terrorist who has a briefcase nuke, and there’s twelve (12) hours left to go. My book is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived.”

Talking about the old-fashioned kind of tradecraft in “Palace of Treason,” he said, “I guess it’s a reflection of my age and my generation in the Agency, and a reaffirmation that in spite of all the gadgets, it’s still about two people. It’s called humint for a reason — it’s human intelligence — and the only thing that can do humint is humans.”

 All of his novels are set in contemporary Russia, where a pajama-clad Vladimir Putin even turns up in a character’s bedroom, but like the earlier novel, it’s old school. While there are a couple of James Bondian touches, like a pistol that looks like a tube of lipstick, the main characters — Dominika Egorova, a Russian agent secretly working for the United States, and Nate Nash, her C.I.A. lover and handler — depend mostly on traditional tradecraft. They spend a lot of time walking around and trying to avoid being followed. 

I found all three books to be extremely engaging.  Matthews is apparently at home in Paris, Rome, Moscow, Helsinki, Istanbul, London, Rio, Khartoum, and other cities an ex-spy might frequent or serve in.  He seems to have great knowledge of weapons and weapon systems used by the CIA and the “spooks” in the Russia. 

One thing that became apparent very quickly—Russia is not our friend and has never been considered by the CIA to have been our friend.  President Putin is portrayed as being a cold-blooded cutthroat out to enrich himself and above all, protect mother Russia.   I have a feeling this is an accurate assessment of Putin.

I can strongly recommend you take look at Mr. Matthew’s books starting with “Red Sparrow”.  That’s the firs in the trilogy and the one you need to set the pace for number two and number 3.

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