Subtly evocative prose and a convincing first-person narrative may have readers wondering if this tense and absorbing tale of a former East German spy marooned in New England by the fall of communism could actually be true. Paul Wedekind does not know what to expect when the KGB sends him to America to work on a fishing boat and ferry the occasional visitor back and forth between the Rhode Island coast and Soviet submarines. But any assignment would be better than his previous one, the memory of which continues to haunt him. Conscripted into the East German army at 24, Paul was coerced by the Stasi into spying on Ingo Budde, a boyhood friend who turned into a black-marketeer. Stationed in Afghanistan, the two men were eventually captured by the Mujahadeen, who tortured and killed Ingo. Paul was returned in a hostage trade but reported dead and transferred to the KGB. In America, Paul starts a new life with his contact, Suleika, a brave and competent woman with whom he works and shares a common secret. Together, the two will fight the surprising efforts of their past to reclaim them. Watkins (Archangel) uses the most extreme circumstances to test the identities and obligations of his displaced characters as he confides their stories gradually, building sympathy and suspense and conveying a textured picture of the gray world of people caught between two cultures. The ending of this literary thriller is ingenious, with enough twists and turns to make one hope for a movie version. (Apr.) FYI: Picador will simultaneously re-release Watkins's In the Blue Light of African Dreams in paper.