Picks and Pans Review: 27

updated 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by William Diehl

Johann Ingersoll, the protagonist of this novel, is the Lon Chaney of Nazi Germany. A famous screen star, he enters and exits each film with a grotesque new disguise, relishing both the horror and anonymity such a talent generates. Off-camera, he is more devious, allowing no one to know or suspect his true visual identity. His manner is arrogant, his sexual appetite powerful and perverse and his apparent cruelty worthy of Adolf Hitler, the German leader he so intensely worships.

It is little wonder, then, that when in 1933 Ingersoll is asked by newly named Chancellor Hitler and a member of his staff, Dr. Vierhaus, to embark on a near-suicidal mission—to infiltrate the United States and kill its 27 most powerful men—he willingly responds to the challenge.

This is the best book of its kind since The Day of the Jackal. Diehl (Sharky's Machine, Thai Horse) interweaves his fictional creations among historical figures while keeping a pace worthy of an all-out prizefight. The action is intense, the writing clear and tight, and the characters—from the hunchbacked Vierhaus to former President Herbert Hoover to the Fuhrer himself—are memorably portrayed.

In the end, Diehl cleverly pits the maniacal genius of Ingersoll against the talents of Francis Keegan, the American agent assigned to stop the planned bloodshed. Two men, both experts at what they do, risk all for a final call to glory that only they truly understand. The chapters dealing with their ultimate confrontation are edge-of-the-seat stuff, topping off a mesmerizing effort by an author as skilled at this kind of fiction as anyone around. (Villard, $18.95)

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