Palace of Treason features nonstop action and insider knowledge.

As I wrote in my review of Red Sparrow, the first book in the trilogy of the same name, “the book rises above the level of the genre because the author has infused it with detailed, intimate knowledge of authentic espionage tradecraft employed both by the CIA and by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR.” The sequel, Palace of Treason, demonstrates the author’s expertise all over again, showing:

  • The techniques of torture by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB.
  • How the FSB routinely harasses and surveils CIA officers in Moscow.
  • The whiz-bang technology employed by the CIA.
  • How secret agents are “exfiltrated” from “denied-area operations.”
  • The bureaucratic structure of the CIA, the FSB, and the SVR.

It’s all there in Palace of Treason. This is fiction, without a doubt, and the CIA vetted the book’s text to prevent disclosure of any sensitive information. Still, it would be hard to find another novel that reveals the reality of modern-day espionage than Palace of Treason.

Palace of Treason (Red Sparrow Trilogy #2) by Jason Matthews (2015) 481 pages ★★★★☆

A familiar cast of characters

The principal characters of Palace of Treason reprise their roles in the trilogy’s first book:

  • Dominika Egorova, the former ballet star and “sparrow” (sex-worker) for Russian intelligence. She is now a captain on the counterintelligence staff of the SVR and a secret agent for the CIA.
  • Nathaniel (Nate) Nash, her lover and handler at the CIA.
  • Martin (Marty) Gable, now Deputy Chief of Station for the CIA in Athens, and his boss, Chief of Station Tom Forsyth. (Gable “had made his bones in every backwater capital in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.”)
  • Alexei Zyuganov, Chief of Line KR, the SVR’s counter-intelligence arm. He is the “toxic dwarf” modeled on one of Stalin’s torturers and executioners. (“Zyuganov worshipped Putin like an Aztec worships the sun.”)

Several major new figures enter the scene in this book, including Zyuganov’s CIA counterpart Simon Benford, head of the agency’s Counterintelligence Division (“an enfant terrible and a misanthrope”), and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin himself.

Nonstop action in this sequel to Red Sparrow

Dominika Egorova, code name DIVA, “had morphed into a member of a nameless team, specialists all, working against the odds to accomplish the impossible, to gain access to the inaccessible, to prevail against the unassailable.” As the action unfolds, DIVA and her CIA colleagues become embroiled in a high-stakes operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program . . . nonstop action to uncover the identity of a high-level mole in the CIA . . . running a highly placed secret agent in Russian intelligence in addition to DIVA . . . and intelligence-gathering from directly within the Russian President’s office. (It’s the Kremlin that is the eponymous “palace of treason.”) Welcome to unrelenting action and some of the most detailed, insider information about the conduct of human intelligence in the contemporary world.

In Palace of Treason, you’ll also see the evidence that the author is a foodie. Following each chapter is a recipe for one of the dishes eaten in that chapter. The cooking scenes are described with as much loving detail as the sex scenes. And the sex is hot.

About the author

Author Jason Matthews’ official bio (1951-2021) on his publisher’s web site is worth quoting at length: “Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelli­gence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations.” Matthews reveals in the Acknowledgments to this book that his wife, too, was a three-decade veteran of the CIA. It should be clear, then, that Matthews truly knows whereof he writes.

I reviewed the first book in this trilogy, Red Sparrow, at Authentic espionage tradecraft in this gripping novel by a CIA veteran.

For another excellent recent spy novel with a heavy emphasis on authentic tradecraft, see Damascus Station by David McCloskey (A spellbinding novel about espionage in Syria).

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