Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

red sparrow

Official Thrillerfix Review by Tim Tigner

22 August 2018

It doesn’t take long to figure out why Jason Matthew’s debut novel is hitting the big screen, big time, and doing so faster than the household names whose novels dominate the NYT charts. Red Sparrow is as captivating as The Shawshank Redemption, fascinating as The Firm, and authentic as The Martian.

At its core, Red Sparrow is a classic spy-versus-spy story, very well told. What adds excitement, or rather sex appeal, is casting an SVR trained seductress in one of those roles. Her name is Dominika, and like several other characters, she is fascinating. A ballerina, a synesthete and a seething caldron of mixed emotion.

With Dominika at the heart of his story, Matthews harnesses all the energy of Nelson DeMille’s greatest hit, The Charm School, which he then channels into a plot more authentic than any espionage book I’ve ever read. Think John le Carré squared at twice the speed. Even as a fellow espionage author with a Soviet counterintelligence background, I found the insights spellbinding.

While the novel’s verisimilitude isn’t entirely surprising given Matthews’ 33 years with the CIA, the caliber of his writing is stunning. I marvel that a debut novelist of his years could produce such punchy prose.

Again, I can’t recall reading its equal within the genre. In Red Sparrow, sentiments “surface from the mineshaft of his soul,” emotions live in the “marshland of his heart,” and thoughts seep forth from “the sodden duck blind of his mind.” My mouth is still suffering from stretch marks.

Do yourself a favor and read the book before you see the movie.

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