A brief but well-documented investigation into the murder of Sergei Kirov--once considered Stalin's possible successor--on December 1, 1934. Conquest, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of 14 other works on Soviet issues, the latest of which was Harvest of Sorrow (1986). The circumstances leading up to Kirov's murder have never been satisfactorily explained, despite a big show-trial of the assassin in 1934. During his anti-Stalinist zeal of the mid-1950's Khrushchev ordered a new investigation, but the results were never made public. Now Conquest, sensing that the Gorbachev regime may be on the verge of revealing the tree story, has come out With it first. His theory places the murder on a level of historical significance even higher than the murder of the Austrian Archduke in 1914. For Conquest argues that Stalin himself sanctioned the murder (Conquest hastens to add that the evidence is a matter of logic and circumstance and would by no means be enough to ensure conviction in a western court of law). But the author's imputation is clear: ""A subordinate who was giving trouble was removed; and the way was simultaneously opened to the establishment of a full-scale Stalin autocracy."" It is the latter circumstance that results in Conquest's assertion of historical significance. By indirectly connecting the murder with political factions, Stalin was, Conquest states, able to use the murder to seal the fates of thousands--and, indirectly, millions--of people in the dictator's later purges of 1937 and 1938. Conquest's conclusions seem counter to, for instance, those of leading Sovietologist Adam Ulam (author of the novel The Kirov Affair--p. 323), who argues that Stalin wouldn't have undertaken such an act, as it might have put ideas in people's heads to turn the tables on him. Still, Conquest makes a reasonable case, shedding further light on this historical mystery.