From the best-selling, Edgar Award-winning author of the “terrifically good” (The New York Times) Red Sparrow, a compulsively readable new novel about star-crossed Russian agent Dominika Egorova and CIA’s Nate Nash. ‘Enthralling. That Matthews, who served in the C.I.A. for 33 years, knows the world of espionage and its darkest corners is never in doubt. Palace of Treason shimmers with authenticity’ New York Times ***
Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service has returned from the West to Moscow. She despises the men she serves, the oligarchs, and crooks, and thugs of Putin’s Russia. What no one knows is that Dominika is working for the CIA as Washington’s most sensitive penetration of the Kremlin. As she expertly dodges exposure, Dominika deals with a murderously psychotic boss; faces assassination attempt and counter-intelligence ambushes, and must rescue a compromised agent and somehow spirit him out of Russia from under the noses of her pursuers.
Complicating it all is Dominika’s relationship with her CIA handler, Nate Nash. And when a mole in Moscow finds her name on a classified list of sources, it is a virtual death sentence … With the brilliant Palace of Treason, CIA veteran Jason Matthews confirms his position as the most exciting spy writer alive. This is as good as it gets.
Without a doubt, the Red Sparrow Trilogy is one of the most exciting set of spy thrillers I have ever read. I happily finished The Red Sparrow and moved onto Palace of Treason, to see where the action takes us next. I do not think Palace of Treason can be read as a standalone. The beauty of these books is the growth in the writing and the character development. The books transition easily from one to the next.
For those of you not in the know, the Red Sparrow Trilogy follows CIA asset, Dominika Egorova. Red Sparrow introduced Dominika, a tough and perceptive young woman. Former ballerina, Dominika was left demoralised and angry, after her enforced recruitment to Sparrow School – Whore School – by her uncle. Dominika learned the craft of sexual entrapment. She also has the amazing gift of being able to read people by colours, as she senses their moods. In Red Sparrow, Dominika was recruited by Nate to become a secret weapon of the CIA, a double agent. Nate and Dominika break the unspoken agreement between recruiter and asset and fall in love. Danger is always one step away.
In Palace of Treason, we really see Dominika and Nate flourish and develop as characters. Our attachment to them both grows. We can see they are in an impossible situation, balancing tricky and dangerous roles with their strong emotions for each other. They do not know if the other is still alive or when they will meet next.
Dominika is now working for the SVR (the new KGB), the Foreign Intelligence Service, in a more senior position. She has recovered from the spy swap drama, which took place a few months ago. She has held her head up high. She knows all eyes are on her, a growing star of The Kremlin, with the attention of the President. She is prepared to use her sexual powers of persuasion, to get her where she wants. Dominika is ordered to entrap and recruit an Iranian scientist with a passion for escorts. This will mean very useful intelligence for her CIA handlers. At the same time, Dominika has to deal with her evil boss who has murder in mind. She has to use all of her cunning to outwit Zyuganov and his dark intentions. Zyuganov is a sociopath, with an enjoyment of torture. A worthy advisory for Dominika.
Nate is back and posted to Athens Station, where the Greek sun shines brightly. Nate Nash had handled the now defunked MARBLE, the top CIA agent in Russia. He recruited DIVA, Dominika, spotting her potential as an unhappy young SVR agent. His relationship with Dominika is a matter of public knowledge in the CIA and a problem for them. A walk in or unknown turns up at the station. Nate uses all of his remarkable talents to recruit this new Russuan source of information, code name LYRIC. Dominika arranges to meet Nate and the CIA gang in Vienna, with all of her new knowledge about the Iranian scientist and his nuclear programme insight.
The twists and turns of Palace of Treason continue, at a pace. We soon get gripped with the complexity of the Iranian nuclear plan, as both Putin and the US play their little games of counter-espionage and damage control. Dominika gets a new handler in Russia, in the form of Hannah Archer. We see how in depth Hannah’s training is, as she gets to know the street and to be aware of her followers. It is all really fascinating, how she learns to avoid surveillance. Plus we see a dissatisfied high ranking CIA worker start to leak secrets to the SVR. Will this lead to the identity of DIVA being revealed?
I adored Palace of Treason. It is brutal at times, with its foray into torture. It is mesmerising. It feels like an education, in spying and in game playing. Anyone who fell in love with Red Sparrow, will doubly fall in love with Palace of Treason. Matthews hits all the right notes and makes them sing beautifully. You will be cheering for Dominika. You will be hoping that Dominika and Nate will find a way to be together. My tiny quibble is that the author missed a trick in not giving the Russians more of a nuanced portrayal. No one believes the Americans are whiter than white, in the same way as the Russians cannot possibly be completely evil and black. Still it is a brilliant read and well worth checking out.
It is dark, exciting and cleverly executed, with the best double agent ever in Dominika.