cover image Siro


David Ignatius. Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc, $19.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-374-26506-9

The tottering Soviet empire and a U.S. whose power is unraveling around the globe provide the context for a spy thriller that succeeds as both stunning entertainment and searching probe of the contemporary political chessboard. Alan Taylor, CIA chief in Istanbul, sentimental nihilist and professional malcontent, enlists nervy, vulnerable Anna Barnes, fresh from Harvard's department of Ottoman history, on a mission to destabilize Moslem-dominated Soviet Central Asia. Together they recruit a crude, burned-out ex-CIA man in Athens, an Armenian dissident intellectual and an Uzbek ex-Nazi agent who has been living among Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. But Taylor, who keeps overstepping company rules and ethical norms, saves the most dangerous part of the mission for Anna, with whom he is having an affair. Ignatius ( Agents of Innocence ) ranks with Graham Greene in his knowledge of espionage and the human heart. Petro-hustlers, arms dealers, an obnoxious CIA psychiatrist and Islamic nationalists seeking freedom from Russian rule crowd a tricky tale of power politics and double cross. 75,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection. (Apr.)