Review of Red Sparrow

Red SparrowRed Sparrow by Jason Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got a real kick out of this one, although I can kick about a few things in it, too. This is a spy novel in the classic cold war US vs. Russia genre. The author is the real deal and the jargon, tradecraft, and dialogue reflect that. The story reeks of authenticity. The plot and character descriptions are already described sufficiently in other reviews, so I’ll add my personal perspective. First off, the FBI bashing got real old real fast. I also found the sex and torture scenes excessive, unnecessary, and pandering – frankly offensive, but perhaps not more so than has become common in the thriller genre. I listened to this one on CD and the reader was excellent. I don’t know Russian, but I’ve heard enough of it to believe the reader did. He convinced me, anyway. This book is much better than Blowback by Valerie Plame. I gave up on that one halfway through, so I’m not reviewing it. It wasn’t terrible, but just too much geared to the chick lit scene for my taste.

This author made an odd choice that, surprisingly, I haven’t seen mentioned in the dozen or so reviews I read, although I assume there are reviews out there mentioning it. Every chapter or so he ends with a recipe related to the preceding scene. I can’t say this bothered me or appealed to me; it was just sort of weird. Most of the recipes sounded somewhat stomach turning to me, but then I’m no foodie. I’m the type who wishes they’d invent a food pill so no one had to eat. In order to feed this conceit, the author crams a lot of restaurant or dinner meetings into the exposition, thus repeating in the text the same recipe that is presented at the end. This is a waste of time and a bit irritating in my opinion.

All in all, though, the plot was clever, the American characters believable, the action not so much but still entertaining, and it was refreshing to relive that era. The Russian characters were grossly overdrawn, comic-book-like Snidely Whiplash bad guys. Putin would not be pleased, but American fans of the genre will.

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