After a plodding detour into crimeland (The Choice of Eddie Franks), Freemantle makes the dust fly as he returns to the turf he knows best: the treacherous spy world of Charlie Muffin (Charlie M, Charlie Muffin U.S.A., The Blind Run). In this sixth seriocomic adventure, cunning Charlie takes on the CIA and the KGB as he engineers a difficult Soviet defection. Charlie takes fewer beatings--physical and emotional--than usual here, and for once he has full backing from a sympathetic Director (a boon, since he's still in the habit of bending rules as if they were pretzels). But Freemantle makes up for the lessened shocks by offering perhaps his most complex outing yet, an exciting maze of plot and counterplot that Charlie tumbles into when he flies to Tokyo to coordinate, with the CIA, the defection of KGB killer Yuri Kozlov and his wife Irena: seems Kozlov won't go to the US unless, as insurance against double-cross, Irena defects at the same time to the British. Charlie fights a fascinating battle of wits with CIA-ers, Kozlov, and Irena--darkly cynical, compelling characters--as he seems to outmaneuver all in order to set up Irena's defection and a simultaneous British double-cross/snatch of Kozlov. But things go wrong when the British kidnap-plane is blown up and Charlie must call on old pal/spy Harry Lu for help, and even wronger when Harry is shot dead by a bullet meant for Irena, trigger pulled by Kozlov's beautiful KGB lover, Olga. (Kozlov, Charlie soon learns, never intended to defect, but only to throw his wife to the American wolves in order to clear his conjugal bed for Olga.) In the clock-work, tricky, twisty concluding scenes, a desperate Charlie uses all his savvy in order to save Irena, trap Olga, stare down an lethally enraged CIA, and, finally, pay back Kozlov in spades for Harry's death. Not as resolutely gripping as Freemantle's best--the stakes are lower here--but Charlie remains an enthralling hero and Freemantle's spy details are as good as they come. Espionage buffs will gobble this Muffin up.