Picks and Pans Review: Carnival of Spies

updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Robert Moss

In Rio, carnival is magic, and so is this festival of deceit in spy novel form. It begins in Germany in 1913 and follows the career of double agent Johnny Lentz from his enthusiastic entry into the Communist underground in Hamburg to his work in Brazil before the outbreak of World War II as a spy for the British government. In between, Lentz works as a Russian-trained explosives expert who always seems to have "a sense of danger." No wonder: His job includes fomenting violent revolution in London and Shanghai. There is a subplot about Lentz's romantic involvement with Helene and Sigrid, sisters with fierce notions about sex and politics. There's also lots of local color. Even with its emphasis on plot intricacies and action, Carnival draws a fascinatingly human portrait of Lentz as he becomes disillusioned with a political agenda that often mandates death. In a crucial meeting with Stalin, Lentz is left breathless by "the raw cynicism and powerlust" that drive the Soviet leader's plans for Brazil. Based on the life of an actual double agent, Johann Heinrich de Graaf, this page-turner juggles a variety of organizations, spies, secret police and opportunists well. Moss, author of 1985's Moscow Rules, is a literate storyteller, and his spy saga to a samba rhythm rarely misses a beat. (Villard, $18.95)

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