An amusingly fast-paced, if willfully deranged, parody of the spy thriller genre, by the prizewinning author of Cherokee (1987) and Double Jeopardy (1993). Winner of both France's Prix MÇdicis and the 1990 European Literature Prize, this is a comic-surrealist romp, long on ingenuity and short on conventional logic and unity, done up in the agreeably eccentric manner of Raymond Queneau, with nods in the direction of the experimentalist Ou Li Po group of writers (which Queneau inspired), whose best-known member was the late Georges Perec. When Franck Chopin, an entomologist who dresses like Oscar Wilde and moonlights as a ``spook,'' is enlisted by the mysterious Colonel Seck to dog the footsteps of the even more mysterious economist Vital Veber, the stage is set for an intricate cat-and- mouse game that takes Chopin to such unmapped and alien territories as the Parc Palace du Lac, a hotel that isn't listed in any of the guidebooks. Similar confusions attach to Chopin's reluctant mistress Suzy Clair, her missing husband Oswald (who will of course turn up when least expected), a closemouthed ``cryptanalyst,'' a menacing beauty who turns out to have been the former Miss Sebastopol, and an aggressively physically fit thug whose code name is ``B-12.'' It all ends with a byzantine ``exchange'' that mystifies more than it resolves and with the befuddled Chopin's recognition of ``his status as pawn, as bit player.'' The equally befuddled reader may share that sentiment, but will probably have a fine good time anyway. Though Echenoz scorns to explain overmuch, he fills this gracefully loony book with fresh and appealing comic detail, limned with zany lyricism and eye-catching metaphors (a heavy rain ends, as ``the sky finished wringing itself out''). Polizzotti's translation effectively captures Echenoz's infectious love of verbal and narrative juxtapositions, and provides relatively easy entry into the world of a uniquely clever and likable novelist.