The Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews – The Sparrow School is a school for specialized training of selected Russian spies in the art of sexual seduction which becomes helpful in recruiting people to betray their government and work for Russia. One of the central characters of this book did go through this school although this is not the main emphasis of this true to life spy story. It is true to life because the author, Jason Matthews, like John La Carre, Ian Flemming and other well known writers did serve as an agent but not for the British as they did, or for the Russians, but for the Americans. He worked for the CIA for 33 years having postings all over the world, being a station chief in several countries and by his own admission recruiting double agents and training many of his junior colleagues in the art of spycraft. The details of carrying out espionage in a foreign country or trying to catch a traitor in your own country apparently requires meticulous attention to detail, complicated dead end drops, surveillance, counter- surveillance, studying everyone and every thing in the street, parks or alleys around you , looking for people who might be looking for you, taking circuitous routes, doubling back, using parallel patterns of following targets, making “fish-hook” changes in direction and being a master of code words and code messages. There are hidden video cameras and microphones, special transmitters that shoot signals to satellites. There are agents from both sides that try to recruit each other and there are moles deep in the government of one side or the other. Yet the story rings true not only because the author lived in this world but because we all know from the newspapers and television something about this history of the real world of espionage that continues even after the end of the so called “cold war”. Matthews does more than present us with authenticity. He also shows us his ability to write and capture images that imprint in the reader’s imagination. Here is a passage which the author is setting up an important event.
Thick and ragged as a plug of surgical cotton from the the box, the fog occasionally licked up over the roadway of the bridge. The lamps along the bridgeway came on and caught the fog, blowing right to left making it seem as if the bridge itself were moving on casters along the riverbank.
His passages, which included people were even more vivid such as the description of a guy being murdered with a wire on his neck as he had sex with an female agent who had no idea this was going to happen. While the book had its share of blood there was much more an exploration of the motivation that allows people to make decisions to become a traitor and allow themselves to be turned. The acronym MICE is one example; money, ideology, conscience and ego. There are several characters that we come to understand (or think that we do), twists and turns, page turning or Kindle clicking tension and some inside insight into the world of spies. We also have a new successful writer on the scene. I understand he is working on his next story. This one his first, could lend itself to a sequel. (2013)