Reading corner: Palace of Treason

Palace of Treason

By Jason Matthews

Penguin Books

Who needs spy fiction these days when a check of Twitter or the latest front pages reveals it playing out in real life? Well, actually this novel from a 33-year veteran of the CIA’s Operations Directorate proves that the genre is alive and well, even in the age of Trump, dossiers and “fake news”.

Palace of Treason is the second part of a trilogy that mixes Le Carre with Ludlam – the scenes of violence are redolent of many a Jason Bourne thriller – yet thanks to Matthews’ winning blend of experience and insight, it carries a ring of authenticity which grips the reader from the get-go.

We pick up the story with one of the great heroines, Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service. A top-level operative of the Russian Intelligence Service and increasingly favoured by President Putin, she is also the CIA’s top spy in the Kremlin – complex and compelling in equal measure. The action is by no means limited to her escapades, however. The novel jumps around the world, from Vienna to Moscow to Washington to Paris – a true global epic where tension and rich characterisation abounds.

That this is only Matthews’ second novel comes as something of a surprise. Yet his natural gift for crafting a true page-turner is helped enormously by being able to underpin deep storytelling skills with the telling details that only someone of his background could come up with – he conducted recruitment operations against the Soviets and served as chief of various CIA Stations around the world during his long career.

Although the action and tension never lets up, this is a long book, one that takes its time and lets the reader settle deep into the storyline(s). And of the many nice touches, Matthews’ decision to display at the end of each chapter the recipe of whatever food the American and Russian characters have been eating is one to savour – literally.

For anyone in the southern hemisphere seeking a gripping beachside read, or for those of us currently shivering in a bleak mid-winter, this novel is a real find. Settle in and buckle up – you’re in for quite a ride.