Fortunately I saw the film first. I rated the film as excellent but the book is far better. Matthews must have been paid an awful lot of money for film rights as there are significant U turns in both the characterisation and plotting. Does it matter? Films after all are a summary. They aren’t slavish replications and the film (Red Sparrow), with the impeccable Jennifer Lawrence, is clearly the first of a series.
Matthews is a career CIA officer. The novel emits the sulphur of authenticity from both sides of the continuing Cold War. It’s a home crowd novel with implausibly good CIA officers battling against SVR Russian counterparts. Putin is named and shamed but US presidents (Bush Jr ? Obama?) aren’t, which is indicative of Matthew’s biases. Needless to relate 3rd country torture centres aren’t mentioned nor waterboarding nor CIA rendition flights. But this merely reminds the reader that this is a novel not a piece of history.
Anyone believing the Cold War had finished with the demise of the Soviet Union is deluded as the attempted assassinations in Salisbury (UK) demonstrate. Dominika Egrova, an ex-ballerina and niece of SVR deputy director Vanya becomes a spy. She’s very bright and steely. Graduating from a ‘whore’ SVR school for sexpionage Dominika operates far beyond her pay grade. Being the niece of the ironically named Uncle Vanya (shades of Checkov?) is the background noise that tames too much criticism when she errs (though that didn’t save her from a gruelling interrogation). The search for a CIA mole in the SVR is the principal theme and is brilliantly well done.
Why you should buy this book: It’s a pulsating thriller
Why you shouldn’t buy this book: If you’ve seen the film it might come as a shock.