An immediate legacy of perestroika has been a dramatic reshaping of the Soviet intrigue genre--as in Cullen's timely first novel about the effects of a Kremlin power struggle on an American reporter covering the story. A usually reliable source tells Moscow correspondent Colin Burke that liberal General Secretary Vikenty Ponomaryov, who hasn't been seen in public for over a week, is seriously ill, though mending. Burke's story on Ponomaryov's illness gives him a front-page scoop, but when no confirming details are forthcoming and he also finds himself framed for smuggling copies of Deep Throat into Russia, he realizes he's been set up--the story's a plant designed to allow Party hardliners the time they need to consolidate their power before announcing that Ponomaryov's actually dying. With the help of actress Marina Makeyeva, Burke manages to get inside word of Ponomaryov's condition; but as he's planning to run to safety in Helsinki to file the story, taking the defecting Marina with him, the Washington establishment, who'd rather see the hard-liners in power, arranges to have them fingered at the border. When American cultural attachÃ‰ Victoria Carlson warns him that Marina's forged passport won't pass muster, Burke's got to come up with a more heroic plan to smuggle her out. By this time Cullen's sedate thriller can use some action, and the final 40 pages crackle (at last) with excitement for his appealingly low-key hero (""A check in the rearview mirror showed nothing he could spot. But what did he know?"") and heroine en route to a surprisingly satisfying ending. A solid debut--short on thrills, but long on day-in-the-life realism.