Many authors of mystery and suspense fiction write with a light hand, speeding their stories along with breezy dialogue and only sketchy scene-setting. Jason Matthews is different, and the three books of the Red Sparrow Trilogy prove it.
In all three stories, Matthews delves deeply into the psychology of his characters and offers detailed technical information about both CIA and Russian spycraft. And he loads up dialogue with words in languages foreign to most English-speakers. The Kremlin’s Candidate, the engrossing conclusion to the Red Sparrow Trilogy, abounds with Turkish and Chinese words as well as lots of Russian. As a consequence, the book is a slow read for anyone who wants to enjoy the richness of the tale. But it’s well worth the effort.
The Kremlin’s Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy #3) by Jason Matthews (2018) 449 pages ★★★★☆
The Red Sparrow Trilogy concludes with surprises
Throughout the Red Sparrow Trilogy, two characters dominate the action. Nate Nash is the brash young CIA officer who falls in love with Dominika Egorova, the Red Sparrow herself. (Russian intelligence maintains what is known as the Sparrow School, a training center where attractive young women and men are trained in the arts of seduction to trap enemy agents. Dominika is a graduate of this program.) A colonel and head of a key department in the SVR, Dominika has now become the Americans’ most productive spy in Moscow. (“She has developed into a source surpassing Cold War stars like Penkovsky and Polyakov.”) In addition to Nate, three other CIA officers play central roles:
- brilliant, irascible Simon Benford, Chief of Counterintelligence;
- Tom Forsyth, Chief of the CIA’s Europe Division, a legend in the agency’s activist Directorate of Operations; and
- the gruff and profane Marty Gable, a career-long colleague of Forsyth’s who is a mentor to both Nate and Dominika.
In The Kremlin’s Candidate, several fascinating new characters join the cast:
- Alexander Larson, Director of the CIA (DCIA), a former operational officer who pushes for aggressive action against Russia;
- Anton Gorelikov, Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man in matters of intelligence and Dominika’s boss’ boss;
- Master Sergeant Iosip Blokhin, a veteran of the Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz), now a hitman for Russian intelligence;
- Audrey Rowland, a brilliant US Navy scientist on her way to a top military post; and
- Russian President Vladimir Putin, who personally rejoins the cast in a larger role.
Do not be surprised if one or more of these important characters die by the end of The Kremlin’s Candidate.
The author’s political views surface
Clearly, Jason Matthews is no fan of Russia or of Vladimir Putin. Throughout the Red Sparrow Trilogy, he makes this abundantly clear in his portrayal of Russian officials, his descriptions of the country, and his unsparing view of Putin himself. For example, at one point in this book, in referring to Russia, he writes, “the entire country was nothing more than a big petrol station with nuclear weapons and heaps of murdered dissidents.” Accordingly, Matthews makes it obvious that he regards attempts by liberals to reform the CIA as dangerously misguided. In The Kremlin’s Candidate, a liberal US President is portrayed as a fool. In one aside, he even makes disparaging references to climate change, indicating he does not recognize the threat it represents.
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.” In other words, it should be no surprise that Jason Matthews could write a book that exhibits authentic espionage tradecraft. The Kremlin’s Candidate is the conclusion to Matthews’ Red Sparrow Trilogy.
For additional reading
Previously I reviewed the first two books in the Red Sparrow Trilogy:
- Red Sparrow (Authentic espionage tradecraft in this gripping novel by a CIA veteran); and
- Palace of Treason (Nonstop action in the sequel to the bestseller Red Sparrow).
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).
You might also enjoy my posts:
- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
Click here for more Good books about Vladimir Putin, modern Russia and the Russian oligarchy.
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.