Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Jason Matthews, a first time novelist, has written a winner in Red Sparrow. Set in Russia, France, the United States and other locales the story line runs through the  career of Nate Nash, a CIA operative posing as an economic aide and his Russian counterpart Dominika Egorova.

Nate Nash has a family full of lawyers. When he decides to pursue a career as a "clandestine officer" he has no idea that he will be equally as successful. Stationed in Moscow as an economic aide, he is meeting the most successful spy ever - Marble. Marble is highly placed in the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service). The meeting is going well until 3 cars show up looking for them. Both escape. But the fall out is that Moscow suspects Nash has a mole in the Russian government.

Nash's supervisor, Gondorf hates him and wants him gone. He decides to end Nash's tour early, a possibly career ending move. But Nash is instead sent to Finland. Meanwhile, Dominika Egorova is related to one of the highest ranking members of the Russian spy community. He decides to train her to become an operative, something at which she will excel. Dominika is a synesthete, which means she can see colors around people allowing her to get an emotional read on them, a very handy trait for a spy. Dominika is sent to seduce the third richest man in Russia. It turns out to be a political hit and Dominika does not take this well. In order to maintain control over her, she is sent to the Sparrow School. The school is a training stop for agents in the art of the "honeypot" scheme. Seduce and then compromise someone to get information.

She is sent to pursue Nash because Moscow thinks he has links to a mole in the Russian government. The  two make contact after Nash is sent to recruit her. And then the games really begin.

Matthews is a retired member of the CIA, specifically the Operations Division. He participated in recruitment operations and was a station chief in various hot spots around the world. This background is most likely what gives this book its "real" feel. There are spies and then there are spies. This book has the latter. Nash is real and professional, Dominika as well. The background just rings true. Admittedly I have no counter intelligence experience, but this book just has a different feel to it. Most spy stories have an air of contrivance to them (with apologies to Clancy and LeCarre) but not so with this one.

I highly recommend this book. I certainly recommend this author write another.

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