Safire, the New York Times columnist, has invented a sprightly shell game of double-dealing and triple reversals in his first espionage tale, which heats up when the old Soviet order starts to crumble under Gorbachev. Hoping to finance their return to power, the failing government leaders turn over $3 billion in gold to a KGB agent turned financier placed in the United States. Now, with the fortune worth some $30 billion, both old and new regimes are after the money.
Although Sleeper's pages turn easily enough, Satire's story has so many twists, it resembles a pretzel. It's a filling snack, but hardly a substantial meal. (Random House, $24)