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Was FDR assassinated on April 12, 1945 by a Soviet super-agent? That's the central gimmick here--but the FDR-murder itself is just one episode in an erratically paced, half-formed thriller that begins in 1921 and lurches along through the next four decades. The narrator (except for some awkward third-person interpolations) is young doctor Irina Markov, who flees from post-Revolution Russia to Zurich--where she becomes part of the ‚migr‚ community, falls in love with dashing Vladimir Bogdanov, and is recruited (like Vladimir) as a sometime spy for American agent Andrew Winters. In the 1930s, Irina is running a clinic in Paris while Vladimir's adventures take him to America; eventually, after befriending a Jewish waif/fugitive named Madga, Irina also flees to N.Y. Then, in late 1944, spymaster Andrew Winters asks Vladimir and Irina to help in tracking down a Soviet agent who's been sent to the US to murder fugitive Polish leader Godinsky. (Godinsky might stand in the way of postwar USSR domination of Poland.) But, though Vladimir and Irina succeed in identifying the Soviet assassin as suave ""murder artist"" Serge Dolin, they don't prevent Dolin from zapping Godinsky with poison spray. So then, when Dolin seems to be planning another heinous (but unspecified) US crime, the ‚migr‚spies reluctantly pull out their secret weapon: sexy pal Madga, who agrees to seduce Serge and learn his evil secrets. Again, however, Vladimir and Irina are too late to stop Dolin--who kills FDR with a sneaky injection, aided by the President's homosexual physiotherapist (a Soviet plant). And the final chapters follow all these characters into the postwar decades: Serge, fearing assassination (for secrecy's sake) by USSR agents, goes into permanent hiding; Madga, who has fallen in love with this villain, follows him, leaving their baby son Billy behind; Vladimir and Irina marry at last, helping to raise little Billy; but spymaster Andrew continues to search for assassin Serge. . . until an ironic finale leaves the FDR-murder secret hidden forever. As in his previous suspense-fiction (The Thin Line, On the Edge), Doliner has lots of good ideas here--a few of which generate strong, involving vignettes. Unfortunately, however, he again fails to sustain a focused or compelling narrative: the key characters (Serge, Magda, Andrew) are merely sketched; Irina, though engaging, never takes a commanding role; and the episodic plotting never builds up momentum--or ties up the dozens of loose ends. More like a promising first draft (in search of a shrewd editor) than a surely crafted novel--though intriguing enough, perhaps, to keep some readers hanging on.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1985
Publisher: Crown