Review: Red Sparrow (Espionage Fiction)

6 Star Top 10%, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
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Jason Matthews

6 Stars Best New Espionage Everything

I have reviewed over 300 books on intelligence, almost all of them non-fiction. Apart from the George Smiley series by John Le Carre the only other fiction book I can think of that garnered my respect was Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry.

This book, by a former SE Division (Soviet Division) Operations Officer also known as a Case Officer (C/O) is SENSATIONAL.  I bought it at the airport when my planned reading for the return flight turned out to be junk (Life After Google).

As a former spy myself, but from LA Division (Latin America Division), I found every bit of this book credible and on occasion cackled as the author captured perfectly the nuances of both overseas operations and the fat-assed pasty-faced desk jockeys back at CIA Headquarters who could ruin anything with their suggestions.

True story: I was credibly threatened with assassination by the colonels running a country where I was assigned, and went underground, into  a hotel in alias. Within a day a cable comes in from HQS saying that since I was already in a house paid for by the USG, they could not also pay for a hotel.  The answer from our COS (Chief of Station) was memorable: “What part of assassination are you not understanding?”

This book humbled me. Most C/O's in my time (1980's) and outside Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi, lived immunity, not cover, and did not do twelve hour SDR (Surveillance Detection Routes) in part because most of the agents were run of the mill and almost certainly known to local liaison (the local counterintelligence service). I was glad to be reminded that there is a part of CIA that tries to do clandestine operations properly.

I have bought the other two in the series, Palace of Treason and The Kremlin's Candidate, and heartily recommend this author now and going forward. He got a movie out of it, Red Sparrow (DVD) and I would be delighted if he could eventually do a series that educates the public on the craft of intelligence.



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