Jason Matthews — who after 33 years as a CIA officer in Istanbul; Athens, Rome; Belgrade, Serbia; Rome; Budapest, Hungary; and Hong Kong, became a bestselling author of three spy thrillers — died Wednesday at his home in Rancho Mirage. He was 69.
His wife, Suzanne, who was also a CIA officer, said the cause was corticobasal degeneration, a rare disease in which nerve cells degenerate and die.
In his choice of a second career, Matthews followed other intelligence officers, including John le Carré, Ian Fleming and Charles McCarry, who became novelists — and who brought to their writing a knowledge of recruiting and handling foreign agents, and of dead drops, brush passes, honey traps, debriefings, surveillance and countersurveillance.
“A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life,” Matthews told The New York Times in 2015, “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.”
His book “Palace of Treason,” he said, “is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived.”
Matthews began to write after he retired in 2010 from his final CIA posting, as the station chief in Los Angeles, the seventh time he had been a chief or deputy chief. With his career over, he considered it therapeutic to adapt his knowledge of espionage into fiction. Writing his first novel, “Red Sparrow” (2013), became more than a case of a former operative unburdening himself.