Featured Review: ‘The Kremlin’s Candidate’ by Jason Matthews

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Jason Matthews closes out his Red Sparrow trilogy with a bang, taking readers on another nail-biting ride through the shadows occupied by spies from Russia and the US, who put all their cards on the table during an epic, modern-day Cold War-like showdown.

In 2005, then-twenty-four-year-old Dominika Egorova, one of the best assets Russia’s Sparrow program has ever produced, was tasked with going to work on an American target located at the bar inside the Metropol Hotel. The target, a US Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade named Audrey Rowland, never stood a chance against Dominika’s charm, skills, and raw sexuality. Soon, their encounter moves to a private suite, and Audrey, like many before her, falls victim to Dominika’s sensual energy. 

Later, Audrey learns that their entire encounter was recorded, and she’s blackmailed into spying for the Russians. 

In the present day, Dominika continues to catch the eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin for her work during her time as a Sparrow. Sparrows, trained in the art of “sexpionage,” a form of sexual entrapment, use their bodies to seduce their targets, luring them in close before killing them or convincing them to join the SVR and spy for Russia. Dominika, a former world-class dancer, traded in her ballet career for life in the SVR after sustaining an injury back in Matthews’ Red Sparrow, the first book in his critically-acclaimed trilogy. 

Now, Dominika has risen to the rank of colonel and is highly respected in the counterintelligence section of the SVR. Secretly, she’s a mole for the CIA, and in love with her American handler, Nathaniel Nash, who desperately wants her to defect and come safely to the United States while she still has the chance. Nash’s superiors at the CIA, however, see Dominika as too valuable of an asset to simply remove her from the chess board when she still has moves to make. 

While Dominika continues her ascent within the SVR, Audrey Rowland’s star slowly rises within the CIA, who has no clue she was flipped and began spying for Russia more than a decade ago. When Audrey delivers the Kremlin top-secret information about America’s weapons system, they hatch a bold plan to assassinate the current CIA director, with the goal of having Rowland replace her. If they succeed, the Russians will have unlimited access to America’s treasure trove of classified documents and top-secret information. 

That poses a dangerous scenario for Dominika, code-named DIVA, because her identity as an American asset would then reach back to the Kremlin — who is already busy searching for the mole within their ranks. Once her true identity is revealed, it’s game over, in more ways than one, for both her and the CIA. With the clock ticking down, Nash and Dominika put their relationship on hold while they try desperately to locate DIVA’s American counterpart, leading to a nerve-wracking, heart-pounding final act that will blow readers away and stay with them long after they turn the final page. 

Jason Matthews took the thriller world by storm when Red Sparrow first came out back in 2013. Provocative, daring, and unlike anything else the genre has to offer, readers and critics have raved about Matthews’ first two novels while anticipating his third installment, one of the year’s most sought-after books. Now, his trilogy comes to a close with The Kremlin’s Candidate, and Matthews holds nothing back. 

Newcomers to this series should be aware of the sometimes graphic sexual content, as Dominika’s job is, quite literally, to get targets into bed. While there’s less of that in this book than the previous two, the story does open with a pretty descriptive, hard-R sequence that’ll make more than a few readers blush. 

When it comes to authenticity about the inner workings of America’s foreign intelligence service, nobody comes close to Jason Matthews, who’s been with the CIA for three decades and writes with gripping realism. He combines his intimate knowledge of tradecraft with world-class writing talent and a frighteningly realistic plot that feels a tad too real for comfort. By making Putin a central character in the book, things are clearly set in today’s world. And given certain recent events, it seems as if Matthews’ latest novel could play out in next week’s headlines.

Chilling, timely, and emotionally-charged from beginning to end, The Kremlin’s Candidate is another masterpiece from Jason Matthews, and a sure bet to leave readers absolutely stunned. . . this trilogy is the new gold standard for espionage thrillers moving forward, and a top contender for best spy book of the year. 

(Note: The film adaption of Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) as Dominika Egorova, comes out in theaters on March 2, 2018.)

Book Details

Author: Jason Matthews
SeriesRed Sparrow #3
Pages: 448 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1501140086
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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