cover image Firebird


James Carroll. Dutton Books, $18.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-525-24726-5

This richly plotted romantic thriller by the author of Mortal Friends blends a cast of well-drawn historical figuresJ. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, Joseph McCarthy and the Rosenbergs, among otherswith fictional heroes and villains to create a gripping study of an FBI man who can't stomach the fact that his duty is deception. Recruited from the Midwest and still possessed of idealistic notions of honor and loyalty (the time is 1949), agent Chris Malone arrives in Washington, D.C., where the government is consumed by paranoia about the secrets of the atom bomb. Once under Hoover's watchful eye, Malone goes deep undercover as a protocol officer in the State Department, assigned to help the anti-Communist cause by stealing a codebook from the Russian embassy. His guise includes a ``wife'' who operates with secrets and motives of her own, and becomes the object of his desire even as he wonders whether to trust her. Carroll etches his characters incisively, propelling them through a world fueled by blackmail and betrayal, and stacking his story with twists that strain credulity only in the breathless finale. (Jan.)