Picks and Pans Review: Kolymsky Heights

updated 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lionel Davidson

A note encrypted on cigarette paper smuggled out of Siberia lands on the desk of an Oxford biologist. The message: Send someone to take out the greatest Russian scientific secret in history. With a touch so deft that, in just a few pages, he can make an experiment to breed intelligent, talking apes believable, Davidson (The Night of Wenceslas; The Menorah Men) writes with the icy freshness of his Siberian setting.

With nothing to lose—and not that much to gain—Johnny Porter, a Gitksan Indian from British Columbia, takes on the mission. He also happens to be a Native American activist, Rhodes scholar, linguist, survivalist and cynic—more than enough qualifications to figure as one of the most audacious thriller protagonists in decades.

From London to Nagasaki to the twilight tundra of northern Asia, Porter's quest for scientific knowledge becomes a search for identity. In the process of discovering himself, he poses as a Korean sailor, a Lapp truck driver and a Soviet soldier. Along the way, Davidson keeps techies happy with plenty of armaments. Romantics will linger over Porter's love affair with a Russian physician. And everyone will be staying up past bedtime to discover the next sharp turn in the snow. One further plus: There's not a Nazi in sight. (St. Martin's, $22.95)

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