Joining us today for a brief Q&A is Jason Matthews, author of the espionage thriller Red Sparrow. If you missed my review last week, then take a moment to check it out after the Q&A (you'll find a link below).
Q. Good morning, Jason, and thanks for stopping by. I know one of the first things that struck me about Red Sparrow was the inclusion of food. Unless it's a scene where a dinner party is about to be ambushed, or where a character is about to be poisoned, you rarely see heroes stop to eat in most thrillers. Where did you come up with the inspiration to so thoroughly incorporate food into the story?
The three S’s: Spying; Sex; and Sauces. I just thought inserting food would be a distinctive and fun addition in a serious spy story. I’ve also read and admired novels in which meals and food are minutely described. I purposely made the recipes elliptical, more like clues than detailed instructions.
Q. How did you come to choose the recipes for each chapter? Did you seek out recipes to match the story, or did you already have the dishes in mind while writing each chapter?
The choice of recipes is pretty much random, in some cases they might match the story line (beet soup in Moscow, Greek food in Athens) but mostly I slipped in food when I thought it would be interesting (Gable eating and talking at the same time.)
Q. Through your career experience in the CIA, you must be quite an expert in quickly assessing the people you observe. Do you think what people choose to eat says a lot about their character? Is it really true, that “you are what you eat?"
Definitely agree. What people eat, how they eat, how they use their knife and fork, how they hold their liquor, all can be indicators of character, motivations, or vulnerabilities. Intelligence officers do a lot of their work--spotting, assessing, recruiting--over lunch or dinner.
Q. If we can talk quickly about something (or, rather, someone) else who struck me as a reader, let's talk Dominika for a moment. As a male author, did you find it difficult to write Dominika? How did you ensure that she was as true-to-life as possible?
Other authors have mentioned that some characters in their books actually grow and evolve as they write through to the end. That’s what happened to me and Dominika. As she grew and became more complex, I saw that she was a compelling personality and had to become the principal character. She is Russian, she’s a spy: I could write about that. I tried to make her a true-to-life female character.
Q. No spoilers, but I do have to ask - is the story of Nate and Dominika over? Will we get to learn what happens to them in the future?
I always intended to continue the story (I hope the ending of Red Sparrow screams sequel!) I’m now working on a second book: more moles, more operations, more surveillance. They all face a lot of challenges.
That is does! Thanks for joining us today, Jason.
For those of you who missed it, you can check out my review HERE.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Pub. Date: June 4, 2013
IN THE GRAND SPY-TALE TRADITION OF JOHN LE CARRÉ…comes this shocking debut thriller written with insider detail known only to a veteran CIA officer.
In present-day Russia, ruled by blue-eyed, unblinking President Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency’s most important Russian mole.
Spies have long relied on the “honey trap,” whereby vulnerable men and women are intimately compromised. Dominika learns these techniques of “sexpionage” in Russia’s secret “Sparrow School,” hidden outside of Moscow. As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and—inevitably—forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are made and broken, Dominika and Nate’s game reaches a deadly crossroads. Soon one of them begins a dangerous double existence in a life-and-death operation that consumes intelligence agencies from Moscow to Washington, DC.
Page by page, veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow delights and terrifies and fascinates, all while delivering an unforgettable cast, from a sadistic Spetsnaz “mechanic” who carries out Putin’s murderous schemes to the weary CIA Station Chief who resists Washington “cake-eaters” to MARBLE, the priceless Russian mole. Packed with insider detail and written with brio, this tour-de-force novel brims with Matthews’s life experience, including his knowledge of espionage, counterintelligence, surveillance tradecraft, spy recruitment, cyber-warfare, the Russian use of “spy dust,” and covert communications. Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Red Sparrow is a masterful spy tale lifted from the dossiers of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Authentic, tense, and entertaining, this novel introduces Jason Matthews as a major new American talent.