06 October 2023

A Great Gift and a Great Loss

Couple months ago, I stumbled across a spy novel on my local library's website and checked out Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. I love good spy novels good spy movies and this one grabbed me from the beginning and didn't let go.

It's the story of a premier Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova whose career is sabotaged by a jealous rival. Dominika sustains a career-ending injury to her leg and is forced into espionage training by her insidious uncle. She is sent to Sparrow School where she is trained to use her power of seduction to entrap targets. She has other talents, including the ability to see colors (halos) around people, revealing their true natures. She also becomes a lethal killer. She is unhappy with the work and unhappy with her life and is recruited by the CIA to spy for the Americans.

The details of spycraft is extraordinary and this is the best spy novel of the 21st Century I have read. The library had a sequel Palace of Treason and a third in the trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate. Each is better than the one before and I raced through them and will have to go back and read them slowly to relish the scenes playing out before me.

Dominika rises through the ranks of the Russian espionage network – all the way up. Her interactions with her CIA handlers is fascinating and gripping. The end of the third novel packs a helluva punch, left my heart beating fast.

When a writer writes this well, it is such a gift to us readers. After finishing the third book, I searched for other books by Jason Matthews and found none and went online to learn these were the only books he wrote. He died at age 69 from a rare neurodegenerative disease of the brain.

His books are a great gift and his death a great loss.

Red Sparrow won the MWA Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author and the ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel.

If you like spy novels or just good fiction, check out this trilogy. The detailed descriptions of contemporary spy work is fascinating. Jason Matthews was a CIA officer.

I'm so slow. Two days ago, I found the film Red Sparrow starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton. Pretty good adaptation but like most movies, not as good as the novel.

As my hero F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his final line of The Great Gatsby – "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past."

Thanks all for now.



  1. I've never read Red Sparrow, but we had our own "red sparrow" here in South Dakota - Maria Butina, who infiltrated the local GOP, the National NRA, and (after being finally outed and arrested) is back in Russia, where she's a member of the Duma. Putin loves her. She started her American career by seducing a local GOP mover and shaker. As far as I know, she didn't kill anybody, but she had a lot of pictures taken of her in pure "Red Sparrow" mode: high heels, leather coat, and a long gun.

    1. I remember, Eve. She bears more than a little responsibility for the machinations of today.

  2. That is a rave review, O'Neil. I judge most spy novels by The Ipcress File, perhaps Day of the Jackal, or maybe Six Days of the Condor. Matthews novels definitely sound like a contender.

  3. The novel's terrific; the movie's at least half an hour too long, although faithful to the book, and Jennifer Lawrence indeed carries the whole thing easily.


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