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.

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. 

JUMPER—THE BOOK

December 8, 2018


Jumper begins with Davey, a child who has spent the entirety of his life being verbally and physically abused by his alcoholic father. When reading the book, I immediately took a very sympathetic stance relative to Davey’s situation. I cannot imagine growing up on a household with this atmosphere.  He and his mother were routinely pummeled by the “man of the house” and the brutality at times was graphic.   When I say graphic, I mean Davey’s mother had to have reconstructive surgery after her last beating.  This is when she left.  When she did leave, unable to deal with the abuse she suffered, it only got worse for him. He was abandoned by the only person in the world who ever cared for him.   He was left with the man who frequently beat him bloody, Davey finally finds escape when he discovers his ability to Jump, or teleport, to any place that he has previously been, and can remember well enough to picture in his mind. He discovers this ability quite by accident.  His mother lies comatose on the kitchen floor, having been beaten by her husband and Davey is lying on the floor with his father on top of him throwing punches.  He visualizes the only safe place he knows—the local public library.  That’s when he first jumps.  He has no idea as to how he did this.  After the beating, he runs away and tries to make a new life for himself. It is definitely not easy for a seventeen-year-old out on his own, with no money, no drivers’ license, no passport, no Social Security number and no birth certificate.  No identification at all. Out of desperation, he finally decides the only way he can survive is to rob a bank using his powers. This happens in the movie as well but is one of the few similarities between the two—very few.  However, where Davey’s desperate circumstances and real need are deeply delved into in the book.   He is forced to steal the money just to survive, promising to himself one day to pay it back, something he actually, eventually does.  With the money he is able to improve his living standards and actually begin to enjoy his young life not having to worry about the abuse.

He meets a girl named Millie, falls in love, and over the course of the novel finds someone who is willing to listen to his story.  This includes all of the horrible, terrible things that he has had to live through, and has kept pent up inside himself his entire life. She urges him to seek out his mother, and he does just that but the result is a terrible event that determines, to some extent, his future.

In my opinion, the book is much much better than the movie.  The characters are vivid and compelling with Davy and Millie trying to determine the method by which Davy is able to teleport. (NOTE: Teleportation is the theoretical transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical space between them.) The book does NOT come to any conclusions but they do establish the fact that there is a portal through which Davy leaps when he jumps.

What Others Think:

I think this is a terrific book but I would like you to read the book and judge for yourself. I also would like to give you what others think.

Mar 17, 2014  Gavin rated it really liked it

I’ve wanted to read this ever since I watched the Jumper movie. Teleportation movies and books are always fun. The biggest surprise is that this book was nothing like the movie. The only thing they had in common was the teleporting main character.

This was a surprisingly dark sci-fi that spent more time pondering moral dilemmas and exploring Davey’s emotional reaction to the various mishaps that befell him than it did on action sequences. The action and the pace did pick up a bit towards the end.

Davey was a tortured soul with a bit of bitterness about him, but for all his faults he was mostly likable.

Overall this was an enjoyable sci-fi read worth a 4-star rating. I’ll definitely read the rest of the books in the series at some point.

Nov 21, 2013  Eric Allen rated it it was amazing

Jumper
By Steven Gould

A Retroview by Eric Allen

When this book came out, back in 1992, I was in my teens, had just finished the latest installment of The Wheel of Time, and I was looking for something else to read. So, I did the thing that all geeks do, and asked the librarian for a recommendation. She handed me Jumper with a wink and told me that I had better hurry because the book was about to be banned at that library. Being a teenaged boy at the time, these were the exact words needed to sell me on it. And I must say, I was really blown away by it. It was a book written for someone my age, that wasn’t afraid to treat me like an adult, showing such things as homosexual child rape, child abuse, alcoholism, graphic terrorist attacks, and it even used the dreaded F word like FOUR WHOLE TIMES!!! No wonder that behind Catcher in the Rye, it is the most banned children’s book in history. A fact that the author is extraordinarily proud of.

Dec 05, 2017  Skip rated it really liked it

Davy Rice has a special gift: the ability to transport himself to any spot he wants, which he discovers when being beaten by his abusive father or about to be raped by a long-haul trucker. He flees his small town, moving to NY, where he settles down after jumping into a bank and taking almost $1 million. He falls in love with a college student in Oklahoma, and eventually decides to find his mother, who deserted him. But disaster strikes and Davy begins to use his gift to find the culprit, drawing the unwanted attention of the NSA and NY Police Department. Improbable, of course, but Davy is a moral, sensitive protagonist, dealing with complex issues.

Sherwood Smith rated it it was amazing

I call it science fiction though the jumping is probably fantasy, but the book is treated like SF. The original book, not the novelisation for the movie, was heart-wrenching, funny, fast-paced, poignant, and so very real in all the good ways, as the teen protagonist discovers he can teleport from place to place, at first to escape his abusive dad. Then he wants to do good . . . and discovers that there are consequences–from both sides.

I’m sorry that the movie appears to have removed all the heart from it, leaving just the violence, without much motivation, judging from the novelization that appeared afterward. No doubt many readers liked it, but that was not my cup of tea.

CONCLUSIONS:

As I mentioned above, read the book and determine for yourself if it’s a winner.  Easy to read, three hundred and forty-five (345) pages double-spaced.  Good night’s work.

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