I’m Ruined – 365ink Book Review
By Bob Gelms
I’m ruined and Jason Mathews did it to me. I read his first novel, Red Sparrow, and thought I’d read just about the best spy thriller ever. I wrote about that in the last issue of 365ink. Red Sparrow won the 2014 Edgar and the International Thriller Writers’ Best First Novel Award. Now comes his second offering, Palace of Treason, and I’m convinced I have read the best spy thriller I have ever read. The two of them together have ruined me for other spy thrillers. I mean, I’ll more than likely pick up another novel by Terry Hayes in the wake of his I Am Pilgrim and I will certainly read anything Olen Steinhauer writes. I love John le Carré but these guys don’t hold a candle to Mr. Mathews.
Palace of Treason continues the story of the star crossed American agent Nathaniel Nash and his Russian counterpart Dominika Egorova. If you have not read the first book and plan to then you might encounter some spoilers in the rest of this review. So be forewarned.
Mr. Mathews includes enough of the back-story from the first book that you might not have to read it to enjoy the second one. What the hell, the first one is well worth reading and well worth your time; see my review in the last issue of 365ink. So read this review after you have read the first book but before you read the second book.
As a result of the activity in Red Sparrow, Dominika Egorova is promoted to the rank of captain and is put in charge of her end of the Russian spy service. This is too good to be true for Nate Nash as Dominika is a double agent really working for the Americans. The CIA now has a mole placed in the highest levels of the Russian spy service. This is the Holy Grail.
Dominika’s boss, Comrade Zyuganov, has always suspected her of being a traitor and secretly working for the Americans. He tried to have her assassinated more than once because of this suspicion but also because Dominika has the ear of Vladimir Putin who makes an all-star appearance a few times in the book. Zyuganov is a certifiable psychopath, severely psychotic – the foaming at the mouth kind.
He is the big villain – and what a villain. He is scary believable. We don’t just have a cartoon villain like Dr. No, Mr. Big, Auric Goldfinger or even Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Comrade Zyuganov is the kind of guy you might know as an over the top government worker, slightly incompetent but filled with his own vision of himself as hero. He’s got to go and Dominika has a plan. Make no mistake about it; the violence is swift, bloody, and final. The characters are brutal and the whole thing is kept secret from people like you and me.
There is a whole subplot that engages the massively corrupt Putin regime and the sale of sophisticated technical equipment to Iran for their centrifuge program to create enriched uranium. When Dominika conveys the plot to the Americans, they hatch a clever counter mission that plays on the greed of politicians and oligarchs in the Russian hierarchy.
I am going to predict that there is more to come from Mr. Mathews and his characters. The Palace of Treason has a very satisfying ending but it leaves the continuing story of Nash and Dominika hanging. This is a fine thriller with some splendid writing and it comes highly recommended.
Jules Landau, my favorite vegan Chicago private investigator is at it again. Trying to avoid murder cases, he takes what he thinks is a missing persons case. What he gets is more than one eye opening surprise. It turns into a murder case…but does it? And what if someone else turns up dead? Will Purin, Jules cat, ever get those raw chicken livers? (Purin gets raw food because Jules has never seen a wild cat cook its food before eating it.) It’s called Gold Coast Blues and you are going to love it.