MysteryPeople Review: PALACE OF TREASON by Jason Matthews

Jason Matthews joins us at BookPeople Tuesday, June 23rd, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. He will be speaking and signing his latest novel, Palace of Treason, his follow-up to his highly successful debut novel, Red Sparrow. 

– Post by Molly

Spy fiction may have its origins in the adventure narratives of the early 20th century, but the genre came to his gritty, gadgety prime in the midst of the Cold War, where spy battled spy across the globe. Many of the greatest spy novelists of the 20th century, including John le Carré and Ian Fleming, came up in very halls of institutions that they would later critique, glorify, or otherwise interpret in as many ways as fiction would allow.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, spy fiction has expanded; it has delved into the narratives of corporate greed, government corruption, future techno-espionage, and most frequently, historical fiction set during the tensest, most atmospheric moments of history, many involving the Soviets at their hidden-microfilm-camera best. Yet spy fiction has veered away from what is still, arguably, an important and unpredictable force in the world of secrets – Putin-led Russia.

Jason Matthews, a former member of the CIA, is bucking that trend; first, with his debut novel, Red Sparrow, and now, with his intricately-plotted follow-up, Palace of TreasonRed Sparrow first introduced us to the former ballerina and current Russian secret agent, Dominika Egorova. Dominika is a graduate of the “Sparrow School”, a training academy in the arts of seduction. Her training combines with a sort of emotional synesthesia that allows her to sense others’ thoughts.

Egorova returns in Palace of Treason with some new close combat skills, which she immediately puts to use in a series of high-octane sequences before Matthews slows the pace down just enough to whirl the reader into a complex maze of conflicting loyalties, unfulfilled passions, and murderous competition. Matthews never speeds up the pace too much to let his characters develop, and keeps tight control of his plot throughout the narrative.

Palace of Treason goes a little afield from Red Sparrow‘s classic double agent plot, exploring the secretive world of unsanctioned nuclear weapons programs. Egorova, along with Nate, her American CIA handler, seduce, karate-chop, and talk it out in their quest to sabotage Iranian uranium production. Matthews’ CIA background shows in his characters disciplined approach to their work – these are smart spies, and through their actions and language, Matthews transmits a career’s worth of obscure abbreviations, ingenious methods of information gathering, and maddening inter- and intra-organizational rivalry.

He also provides a recipe at the end of each chapter. These dishes, combined with his liberal peppering of Russian into dialogue and his strong sense of historical context, demonstrate the high levels of experience and excellence Matthews has poured into his second novel.  I haven’t read Red Sparrow yet, and I assure you, Palace of Treason functions wonderfully as either a sequel or stand-alone.

You can find copies of Palace of Treason on our shelves and via BookPeople’s events are free and open to the public. In order to get a book signed, you must purchase a copy from BookPeople. MysteryPeople has events going on all week – keep an eye on the BookPeople calendar for more great events!

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