The Salamander is a political thriller set in present day Italy. The title refers to a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire and it is adopted as the insignia of one of the chief characters -- a vigorous 70 year-old industrialist named Bruno Manzini who has managed to survive Italy's turbulent politics over the years. The plot concerns the efforts of Manzini and his protege, Col. Dante Alighieri Matucci, an intelligence officer who relates the story, to expose the men who are trying to establish a military dictatorship. The story begins as Matucci investigates a supposed suicide. But the more he digs the higher his investigation takes him -- until he is faced with his ultimate adversaries: a widely known General and the Director of his own service. The coup is averted but Matucci learns that survival demands more than just the art of compromise. This is Morris West's eleventh novel and it is a less grandiose but more textured work than some of his previous efforts. It is no less slick but here the style is more suited to the subject matter. The scenes, set in Rome, Venice, Milan, in exclusive clubs and vast estates, receive a glossy treatment and though much of the book exists only on its surface the author does manage to convey at one point a real sense of menace. Perhaps by striving for less he has achieved more. September Book-of-the-Month Club selection.