An American spy who has come in from the cold helps save turn- of-the-century Russia from its own worst self in an absorbingly resonant thriller from Forsyth (The Fist of God, 1994, etc.), who once again proves himself a master of the game of blending historical fact with fictive fancy. During the hard winter of 1999, Russia (whose economy has been crippled by corruption, organized crime, and inflation) reaches the brink of collapse when its president suddenly dies in office. A new chief executive must be chosen within 90 days, and the world's smart money is on Igor Komarov, the charismatic chairman of a right-wing political party known as the Union of Patriotic Forces (UPF). Something more than a reactionary nationalist, Komarov has unwisely committed his fascist and racist philosophy to paper. A copy of this appalling document (known as the Black Manifesto) falls into the hands of British intelligence and comes to the attention of Sir Nigel Irvine, retired head of the SIS. Since neither London nor Washington will take action, the knight-errant secures help from a sub-rosa group of elder statesmen to frustrate the would-be dictator's terrifying aspirations. His main man in this venture is Jason Monk, a former CIA officer, who had quit the agency after his Moscow operatives were betrayed by Aldrich Ames. Infiltrated into Moscow, Monk (who speaks Russian like a native) plays the centerpiece role in a dramatic scheme to discredit Komarov and rescue Russia from anarchy by establishing a constitutional monarchy with a Romanov heir on the throne. With assistance from a Chechen Mafia chieftain whose life he once saved, the elusive operative enlists the aid of bankers, upright police commanders, journalists, TV executives, the military, and other oddly coupled allies, including the Orthodox Church's patriarch, in halting the UPF's electoral juggernaut. His efforts are successful enough for the desperate Komarov to attempt a New Year's Day coup. Fine page-turning fare from a consummate pro.