Stalinist terror in the mid-Thirties, but from inside: the victimizers as victims. Peter Piatkov is a Chekhist commissar high up in the NKVD; his common-law wife Lydia, now an editor, was a Bolshevik heroine of the earliest days of the Revolution. Yet when an old rival of Piatkov's for Lydia, Spichalsky, moves up in the NKVD hierarchy, plots are cooked up to discredit the couple purely out of revenge. Piatkov counters with a defense based on blackmail--and what all this means is that lots of people like friends and neighbors and co-workers are suddenly being pulled off the street and into the Lubyanka for interrogation and imprisonment and torture. Litvinoff's picture of Russia bloodily slashing itself to bits while Hitler steadily arms himself for conquest is well-drawn. While he's not a good enough novelist to effectively dramatize all this madness--the book is arctic and grey--it is informed, minutely. A stark conclusion to Litvinoff's solid but rather lifeless trilogy (A Death Out of Season, Blood on the Snow) of Russian revolutionaries self-destructing through the first three decades of the century.