An involving, reflective, and resonant spy thriller, set in 1949-50 Washington, that sharply focuses several of the themes that Carroll's handled with mixed success but unceasing passion in his previous work (Prince of Peace, 1984; Supply of Heroes, 1986; etc.). The hero here is naive, young Kansas City FBI agent Chris Malone, who as a boy carved the letters ""FBI"" over his bed and who believes in the Bureau as ""a fraternity of high-minded, brave but modest men."" Summoned to Washington for his lock-picking skills, Chris is hustled right into the office of J. Edgar himself, and given the assignment--""Firebird""--of a lifetime: to steal from the Russian Embassy, under the guidance of fellow agent Webb Minot, the code book that will finger the traitors who gave the A-bomb to the Russians. For cover, Chris poses as an upper-class protocol officer, complete with wife: lush Anna Melnik, melancholy Ukrainian refugee who trains Chris in suave ways and with whom he falls mutually in love. Through Anna's wooing of a middle-aged Russian diplomat, Tumark, Chris gains entrÃ‰e to a Russian Embassy party; he stays behind and, in a marvelously tense set-piece, steals the code book--which he finds in an unopened (!) safe. But the flush of success soon fades into doubt: Chris learns that Minot doctored pornographic pictures of Anna and Tumark to keep Tumark on a leash; then Tumark is murdered. Soon enough, Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs tumble into the FBI's lap, but Chris smells a rat: Firebird has succeeded too easily. Is there another traitor to be uncovered? Is is Minot? Chris' search leads him to an isolated estate--where he uncovers Anna's secret sadness--and finally to a last, ideal-shattering run-in with Hoover, Minot, and Realpolitik. A too-neat finale and slapdash sunny ending mar the plot-architecture here, and at times the author's incessant internal probings slow the pace to a crawl; still, overall, a superior, unusually rewarding espionage novel and certainly one of Carroll's best.