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William Diehl. Villard Books, $19.95 (559pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56848-5

The gripping audacity of Diehl's ( Thai Horse ) plot justifies his integration of real-life characters in this blockbuster thriller set in the '30s. Some of America's richest, most powerful men meet regularly at an exclusive resort on an island off Georgia. A Nazi ``sleeper agent,'' code named 27, living in the U.S. since 1933, plans to kidnap these VIPs and hold them hostage in exchange for Roosevelt's guarantee that the U.S. will stay out of the war. Larger-than-life Francis Keegan, a wealthy American ex-bootlegger and friend of FDR, is agent 27's nemesis. Keegan's fiancee, a Berlin cabaret singer, had been sent to Dachau because her Jewish half-brother belonged to secret anti-Nazi group Black Lily, and was murdered there. Anger, grief and guilt drive Keegan to flush out 27, a former actor who switches identities with ease. Diehl cleverly integrates chunks of history--the Depression, Hitler's rise to power, Dillinger's bank robberies--into his plot. Despite some improbable coincidences, his solidly researched tale is suspenseful, ingenious and, in places, deeply moving. (Feb.)