What do spies really do in the real world? They really spend their time recruiting another country’s government employees, soldiers, officers or those with access to its secrets to work against their own national interests for the spy’s country. Sometimes the spy lures in a potential asset with money. Sometimes a potential asset comes to a country with secrets because of his agenda or because the secrets are perceived to be destabilizing. There are many reasons to betray one’s country. To the USA, the asset is a hero, to his own country, a traitor.
“Red Sparrow” http://www.amazon.com/Red-Sparrow-A-Novel-ebook/dp/B008J4PK86/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1, the auspicious debut espionage novel by Jason Matthews, a retired former spy for the CIA, masterfully tells the story of spies and their assets, double agents, traitors, tradecraft and murderers. There are American spies and Russian spies. There are honorable men who want to protect their country and disgusting pigs, who will use even their own niece’s sexuality to lure in a potential target. The author knows the motivations of spies, the petty rifts, the changing postings, the hunt for double agents, the moral quandraies faced by the recruited and the recruiters. He knows what spies wear, where they eat, where they train, how to conduct surveillance, trade craft, spy dust and even the recipes of foods that they eat. But mostly, Matthews knows the business of spying. His complete knowledge of the field is blazingly apparent.
Red Sparrow is in many ways an old school espionage novel reminiscent of the best of spy novels from written about the Cold War.
Mostly, Red Sparrow is the story of Dominika Egorova, a Russian spy and sparrow, trained to use her sexuality to entice men into compromising positions for her country, and Nathanial Nash, an American spy, tasked with handling America’s biggest asset and hunting for moles against the USA.
Dominika was training to be a ballerina when a jealous rival has her injured. Her Uncle Vanya, a ruthless and conniving spymaster for the SVR in Russia sees her beauty and recruits her for a special assignation with a wealthy mobster, which ends up a bloody object lesson for Putin.
Vanya does not want Dominika to tell anyone about this little plan so seeks to recruit her to be a clerk, where he can control her, but Dominika requests training as a spy. But after she finishes spy school, Vanya sees another use for her beauty and body, and sends her to Sparrow school, to be trained as a woman who will use her body to entrap men and women to do the Russians’ bidding.
Meanwhile, Nash is the agent in charge of the United States biggest asset in Russia, a general code named Marble, who has been selling out Russia for years.
The Russians know that Nash is running the spy and want nothing more than to capture and kill Marble.
Dominika, fresh off her first solo mission, is sent to entrap Nash or destroy him, but mostly to find out his secrets and find Marble.
But who is recruiting who?
Soon one spy will be spying for the other.
But where ruthless men and traitors are involved, no nation will sit idly by and let the traitors get away scot free. A mission will be set in motion and one spy will be carted away to face torture.
While Nash and Dominika do their dance, Matthews does ladle on a lot of subplots involving other spies against the United States, from a greedy soldier trying to sell state secrets, a deep undercover spy, and a sociopath spy for Mother Russia, that the Americans will have to take down.
I thought Matthews went a little far with these other subplots. I am not sure it was believable or necessary to have the Americans have to thwart multiple plots in the same book, but it probably was necessary because the main story needed bulking up.
Yet Matthews ties everything together, and at the end, the story is still about Dominika, Nash, Marble and Vanya.
Its a densely plotted spy novel and convincing in almost every way, The characters, their motivations and the plot are absorbing. Matthews clearly knows the spy business and tradecraft.
It’s definitely worth a read for any fan of espionage novels.