Secret Country

Frank O'Neill, Author Crown Publishers $17.95 (357p) ISBN 978-0-517-56728-9

O'Neill follows his well-received debut thriller, Agents of Sympathy, with a thoroughly enjoyable tale of cross and double-cross between the borders that divide East and West Germany into utterly separate worlds. Twenty-four years earlier, Oswolt Krel had successfully dodged bullets, mines and barbed wire in a headlong flight to the West. But the freedom he finds there cloys, and the charismatic professor changes sides again, aligning himself with the very forces that crush the hopes he once shared. For his cat's paw in this intellectual game, Krel recruits Renate Segla, a girl who crossed the East German frontier on her own, and sends her back into that drab, frightening police state on a mission he glibly misrepresents. When inexperienced CIA agent ""Wop'' Stears tries to vet information given him by an East German officer his cynical boss distrusts, the duplicity treasured by both sides threatens to bury Renate and Wop in the secret country forever. Though chock-full of sometimes overly intricate deceptions, this nervy, finely crafted novel breathes life into the grit, grime and heart-thumping thrill of espionage. (February)