After several decades in CIA counter-intelligence, Jason Matthews turned his attention to writing fiction, and what a debut he’s had. Red Sparrow (Scribner, $26.99), his elegant spy thriller set largely in present-day Russia, Finland, and Washington, D.C., centers on the relationship between an ambitious young CIA agent stationed abroad and a brilliant but flawed female Russian agent forced to learn the art of seduction and assigned to unmask him and the Russian mole he’s cultivating. (She has been compared to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander.) There is also a cast of vividly drawn—and, in some cases, terrifying—lesser characters. As with a few other great spy novelists, Matthews relies on his own first-hand experience as a covert agent to provide details about espionage that are by turns fascinating, chilling, and even comical. He also weaves into the story evocative references to food, which readers might overlook but for the relevant recipes he includes at the end of each chapter. This is a touch of whimsy that, by the book’s close, becomes oddly comforting and humorous, too.