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Frederick Forsyth. Bantam Books, $24.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09128-1

While for sheer reading excitement Forsyth has yet to top his fiction debut, Day of the Jackal, published a quarter century ago, his later novels (The Fist of God, etc.) display a mature mastery of storytelling melded with a deep knowledge of realpolitik. Here, contemporary Russian crypto-fascists prove every bit as villainous as their Communist predecessors whom Forsyth portrayed in The Fourth Protocol and The Deceiver. It's 1999, and ultra-nationalist Igor Komarov's victory in the upcoming Russian presidential election seems assured. But within Komarov's party headquarters, an elderly janitor accidentally discovers Komarov's secret plans for Russia, laid out in a document that comes to be known as the Black Manifesto--a blueprint for a return to dictatorship, military expansionism and genocidal ethnic cleansing. The manifesto soon comes to the attention of British intelligence, but both they and the CIA are restrained by their governments from taking official action. So with the backing of an organization of international VIPs, former British Secret Service chief Sir Nigel Irvine mounts his own covert operation to subvert Komarov. Ex-CIA operative Jason Monk, who once ran highly placed agents in the Soviet Union, will be Irvine's point man. As usual, Forsyth interweaves speculation with historical fact, stitching his plot pieces with a cogent analysis of both Russian politics and the world of espionage--particularly the legacy of the real-life Aldrich Ames, a Soviet mole who tunneled deep into the CIA. Shifting back and forth in time and space among a large cast of characters, Forsyth expertly builds suspense toward a climactic New Year's Eve skirmish in Moscow. It's another strong performance by a writer who knows exactly what he's about, and who here catalyzes narrative with another memorable protagonist, the stealthy and daring Monk. Major ad/promo; BOMC main selection. (Oct.)