Review: The Kremlin’s Candidate (Espionage Fiction)

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page

Jason Matthews

5 Star Weakest of the Three But a Fine Conclusion

This is the final of three books written by a CIA clandestine operations officer who in my view has created a most extraordinary trilogy that not only should be required reading for every aspiring spy, but is recommended for every citizen as well. This is CIA at its best, with all of its problems revealed alongside its priceless contributions to the USA.

I bought Red Sparrow at an airport bookstore — I do not normally read fiction and as a former  spy myself find most spy stories absurd and unsatisfying, but this series is SPECTACULAR.  The first book and the second, Palace of Treason, provide one of the most nuanced complete views of the ins and outs of human intelligence and human compromise, including offensive counterintelligence and covert action (deniable acts of war).

The first book focused on US and Russia. The second added Iran. This third book added China with a dash of Africa. It is the least satisfying but nevertheless a fine conclusion. It contains the only obvious error across all three books, a dropped hammer from a balcony climb by the Russian assassin that would surely have been noticed by the Chinese as missing from her guest apartment.

The only substantive aspect of this book that did not track with me was the deliberate hit job on Russian President Vladimir Putin. This series is so good it is a real shame the author did not see the value of avoiding the hit job such that the series could be easily translated for sale into the Russian market.

The cosmetic cutesy recipes in a box leave me cold. While this may be an addition original to the author or his wife (who was also operational for the CIA), I could not help wondering if they were the brain fart of a gay editor, perhaps the same person who oversaw The Gay Man's Guide to Eating In (pun intended). The space would have been better used to sequentially define tradecraft and terms of art.

That is, however, a nit. This series is so good that I actually took the afternoon off to read the third book, finishing at midnight. The author — and his editors — have made a major contribution to public understanding of the CIA and why it exists — never mind that 70% of CIA could be burned to the ground and never be missed — this is about the 30% that really matters, really excels.

As I noted in my review of the second book, this series should be required reading for all aspirants to hiring by the CIA, and particularly for all those scheduled to attend Ops I and Ops II. The reality is that most of the CIA clandestine service lives immunity, not cover, and the training facility is CURSORY at best in teaching Surveillance Detection Routes (SDR) at the same time that Chiefs of Station (COS) outside of denied areas do not, in my experience (recruiting five times more agents than the average of my division) do not hold officers accountable for good security, they would rather hit higher production numbers.

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