Picks and Pans Review: Loose Lips

updated 07/14/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/14/2003 01:00AM

By Claire Berlinski

Selena Keller, Ph.D., dreads a tenure-track job, so she answers an Internet ad about careers in the CIA. Will she make it all the way through the training process? Being fluent in Sanskrit helps, but she's a disaster behind the wheel ("Like many New Yorkers, I'd never really learned how to drive") and she needs "three shots of vodka just to board a 747," much less jump out of one. It's as though Bridget Jones were this week's guest star on Alias.

This isn't, however, a slapstick comedy. Rather, it's a fascinating look inside the Agency. There's so much detail about the screening process, right down to the kind of chair that Selena sits on when she takes her polygraph test, that it sometimes reads like nonfiction, although it's a novel. It's also a primer on how spies think: If you can't trust anyone, how do you survive? How do you protect your "asset," the person you are trying to seduce into treason? As Selena tries to learn all this, she finds herself in a kooky romance with her cotrainee Stan, "a pale, fat man with small eyes and very spiky thick red hair."

Loose Lips is funny and smart, a perfect read for the plane or beach. It will tease your brain but not overly tax it. Combing through the various knots of betrayal will hold your attention till the end and make you wish for a sequel. (Random House, $21.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Valuable asset

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