Though very popular in his native France, Durand has yet to conquer a vast American readership (Daddy, 1988; The Angkor Massacre, 1983)--and this original but slack seriocomic outing, set in the 1920's, is not likely to win him new ground. While Daddy was a masterful cat-and-mouser played out through a maze of clever puzzles, here a parallel duel of wits--between Candido Cavalcanti, a Brazilian playboy, and Alexis Alekhin, a Russian spy--consists mostly of mousy Cavalcanti wiggling out from Alekhin's claws. What grabs here, however, is the premise: that Alekhin, eager to curry flavor with Lenin (who appears in vivid cameos), creates the role of ""Jaguar,"" a fearsome international revolutionary--and then casts unwitting Candido in the role. Candido's adventure begins when he escapes from brutal Brazilian military service to Berlin, only to fall in love with Samantha Franck, an American anarchist whose harebrained plot to blow up a cinema attracts Alekhin's attention. Alekhin kills the cinema's owners, and in anonymous calls to police and newspapers ascribes the murders to Jaguar, a.k.a. Candido; posing as a friend, he then helps Candido and Samantha escape to Russia--where they learn of his plan to use Candido as a revolutionary pawn. From then on, it's a black-humored wander around the globe (through Siberia, where the pair clash with brigands; through the American West, where for no good reason they meet Hollywood pioneers William Fox and Carl Laemmle) to Brazil, with Alekhin never far behind, killing many and blaming the deaths on Jaguar. And as Jaguar's legend grows, Candido's strength and courage do too--until, after capture, imprisonment, and escape, he finally becomes Jaguar in truth, to Alekhin's fatal regret. Strong premise and characters, but the storyline--a meandering, murky blend of irony and un-rousing adventure--lacks definition and punch. In all, far less satisfying than the gripping Daddy.