Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (2013)

Genre: Espionage
Interest Level: Adult
Red SparrowThe end of the cold war brought an end to the great tradition of spy novels and spy movies – or at least, interrupted the tradition immensely. I was looking forward to this one, as Matthews is a retired CIA operative, and knows his way around the world of espionage. And he does that superbly well, setting his first novel in modern times, with a Russia led by the creepy Vladimir Putin (is he really always shirtless?) and the American CIA squabbling with the FBI. The story centres around CIA agent Nate Nash and Russian spy Dominika Egorova, who is a synesthete – she can “see” colours that reveal people’s true intentions, giving her a secret edge in the spy business. Nate (purple, a good colour) is hoping to recruit Dominika as a double agent, and Dominika has her own reasons for doing so, but treason is a deadly game. I don’t know enough about espionage to comment on the authenticity of Matthews’ work, but it sure rang true, from Surveillance Detection Routes to honey traps. The story is slow to start as Matthews sets the stage, but it unfolds steadily and keeps you interested until you are quite hooked. But it has its problems. After a great start, Nate’s character falls flat. His motivations are so clear and strong at the beginning, but fade into the background, lost as the focus shifts to Dominika. Which brings me to my second complaint. I hated the synthete stuff, and don’t understand why Matthews used this device. I found Dominika’s reaction to her work puzzling, too; she keeps seducing men to show those bastards in the Kremlin they can’t control her. Huh? Is this some weird male spy fantasy? The sexism is undeniable – Matthews spends far too much ink describing women’s clothes, hair, face and lips. But I may just be irritated at this story of a world I wish didn’t exist. (Speaking of what I wish didn’t exist – the half-recipes at the end of each chapter.) All in all, though, if you like the genre, this one keeps you intrigued and guessing to the very last pages.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15803037-red-sparrow

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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