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Posted: November 21, 2021

A consummate work by an inspired storyteller

Book Review

By Derryll White

Matthews, Jason (2018).  Palace of Treason.

Jason Matthews’ first novel and the first of a proposed trilogy, ‘Red Sparrow,’ was an exciting and surprising read. Any reader familiar with John Le Carre immediately knew that they had found a new treasure.

Matthews evokes the basic Russian soul in the manner of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy – respect and honour of the peasant roots, disdain at the wealth and complicity of tsars.  He points to that apex that the most intriguing Russian women attain, a connection with both spirituality and the earth that eludes the rest of us.  Jason Matthews is a consummate master of desire.

There is a balance here, in all things.  Captain Dominika Egorova, the beautiful sparrow/spy plays with the reader’s emotions and tensions.  CIA handler Nate Nash lets the reader think there is control and, if the reader is a man. Lets him identify with the sexual and work tensions Nate suffers.  And when it all gets to be too much, too loaded, Matthews throws in an appealing exotic recipe to pause the action and distract his reader.  This is not a cookbook, but the recipes are very different and exciting.

The story inexorably pulls the reader in, transports the mind to foreign destinations, excites and entertains. This is a consummate work by an inspired storyteller.

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Excerpts from the novel:

SPY GENRE – She drifted toward the door, noted the heavy velvet curtain, and gave him a beat to get inside, this diminutive man who held the nuclear secrets of the Islamic Republic of Iran in his head.  He was her prey, a human intelligence target.  Dominika ran the edge of her will rasping across the whetstone of her mind.  It was to be a hostile recruitment attempt, an ambush, coercive, a cold pitch, and she thought she had an even chance to flip him in the next half hour.

COLCANNON – IRISH MASHED POTATOES – Peel potatoes and boil until soft.  Vigorously mash with butter and cream until smooth.  Separately sauté sliced garlic, chopped leaks, and shredded kale in butter until the vegetables are wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Fold vegetables into the mashed potatoes and top with melted butter.

PUTIN – This zagovoritsya, this dithering, was not uncommon in SVR.  The modern Foreign Intelligence Service was as riven by fear of the president of the Federation – of the blue-eyed x-ray stares and back-alley reprisals – as the NKVD was of Stalin’s rages in the 1930s.  No one wanted to validate a bad operation and commit the ultimate transgression: embarrassing Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin on the world stage.

IMAM BAYILDI – STUFFED EGGPLANT – Slit small eggplants to make a pocket, then bake until soft.  Sauté thinly sliced onions, garlic and thin wedges of tomatoes, salt, sugar, dill and parsley.  Stuff the pockets of the eggplants with filling and drizzle with olive oil. Add water, sugar and lemon juice to the bottom of a pan, cover and cook over low heat, basting occasionally until the eggplants are nearly collapsed and the juice in the pan is thickened.  Cool and serve at room temperature.

PATYCHYKY – MEAT SKEWERS – Thread meat cubes marinated in vinegar on skewers and squeeze together to form lumpy kebabs.  Mix bread crumbs, curry powder, salt and pepper and coat the meat skewers.  Roll them in an egg wash, then again in the bread crumbs, pressing to adhere and to compact the meat.  Fry the skewers in oil until golden, then place them in a bed of butter and sliced onions and bake in a low oven until the meat is tender.  Serve with salad and adzhika sauce.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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