Another literate thriller from the ever-reliable Read (Ablaze, 1993, etc.), this about a renegade agent of the erstwhile KGB who maneuvers to obtain funds for Russia's cash-strapped Communist Party. In the fall of 199, art scholar Francesca McDermott arrives in a united Berlin to organize a retrospective exhibition of works by Chagall, Kandinsky, and other painters branded decadent by the Stalinists and their political heirs. Assisting in this project is Andrei Serotkin, a steely mandarin from Moscow whose past is something less than an open book. Back in the Kremlin, in fact, state security apparatchiks in power since the failed coup against Gorbachev assign a brutish operative named Nikolai Gerasimov to track down Serotkin, who, as the KGB's Andrei Orlov, masterminded a rogue mission that recovered illegally exported religious icons, albeit without turning over the hard currency earned from the illicit trade. The monetary gains from this heist have long since been invested in an even bigger and more daring caper, the details of which unfold gradually while closemouthed Serotkin and openhearted Francesca conduct a semidiscreet affair. Orlov/Serotkin, it develops, is a true believer in the Marxist cause and will go to any lengths to keep the flame alive during the dark, chaotic winter that has descended upon the former Soviet Union. Thus, before the government-approved show's scheduled opening, he efficiently hijacks the priceless paintings borrowed from museums all over the world, inducing Bonn to pay a $100 million ransom that replenishes the CP's depleted coffers. A twisty climax provides answers to such open questions as which prominent East Germans were Stasi informers before the Berlin Wall came down, what sorts of rewards are in store for enterprising careerists who cling to jobs in Russia's civil service, and whether Francesca will be able to make a life with Serotkin. Gripping, adult fare that probes the price tendered for survival in times and places of great change.