Jason Matthews worked in the CIA for 33 years prior to becoming a novelist

By Gabrielle Chung
April 29, 2021 05:02 PM
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Jason Matthews
Jason Matthews
| Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

Jason Matthews, the award-winning writer of the Red Sparrow series, has died at the age of 69.

The author died on Wednesday after from corticobasal degeneration, a rare and untreatable disease that affects the brain and causes cells to degenerate over time, according to his publisher Scribner said.

"How a bestselling, critically-acclaimed spy novelist sprung from the head of a quiet CIA operations officer appeared to be a great mystery," Colin Harrison, Matthews' editor at Scribner, said in a statement provided to PEOPLE. "But when you learned Jason Matthews spoke six languages, had read widely for decades, was an astute observer of human behavior, and was adept at composing long classified narratives, it all made sense. His books were not only sophisticated masterpieces of plot and spy craft, but investigations into human nature, especially desire in all its forms."

Matthews studied journalism before working in the CIA for 33 years, according to a New York Times profile on the author.

During his time with the agency, he worked as a diplomat in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, recruiting and managing foreign agents.

"Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policeman or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops," Matthews told the outlet in 2015.

"A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life, and a lot of them seem to be about a bipolar Agency guy, helped by his bipolar girlfriend, trying to chase a bipolar terrorist who has a briefcase nuke, and there's 12 hours left to go. My book is all fiction, but it's an amalgam of people I've known, of things I've done, of stuff I've lived," he said.

Jason Matthews
Jason Matthews
| Credit: Michael Loccisano/WireImage

His first novel, Red Sparrow, was published in 2013.

The spy thriller, centered around a former ballerina who is forced to undergo espionage training for the Russian government, won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in the following year.

The book was later adapted into a movie of the same name starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons.

A follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, titled Palace of Treason, was released in 2015.

The third book in the spy series, The Kremlin's Candidate, was published three years later.

"After the trilogy I told myself I'm going to take a little rest, and the very next morning I found myself staring at my computer screen trying to come up with a new plot," he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "I'm going to leave aside the characters in the trilogy, I think, and try to explore some characters and some more relationships. There's no scarcity of plot ideas just based on the news every day. We've got China; we've got Iran; we've got North Korea, you name it. It's a good time to be a spy novelist."

In the wake of Matthews' death, his publisher said in a statement on Twitter, "A sad loss for readers and for us at Scribner; Jason Matthews will be very much missed."

Matthews survived by his wife Suzanne, and daughters Alexandra Matthews and Sophie Baumann.