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Can you write a serious, whistle-blowing Washington thriller (in the Seven Days in May mode) and at the same time write a sardonic, whimsical, even cartoonish entertainment about the nth degree in techno-Intelligence? No, you can't, not really. But first-novelist Lee has a grand time trying--and sophisticated readers will probably find themselves tagging right along through this sly, implausible, yet oddly controlled suspense-comedy debut. Lee's hero is Walter Coolidge, one of the twelve super-intelligence analysts who staff ""The Library,"" where all national secrets, from every conceivable source, are made available: the super-computer jumps from bugged bedrooms to satellite pix of the USSR to analyses of suspicious garbage--Coolidge's specialty. And, while sifting through trash stolen from the home of a US Senator (there's an hilarious moment when two sets of fake garbage-men, rival agents, fight over the trash), Coolidge realizes that there must be a leak in the Library: one of his colleagues, apparently codenamed ""the Doctor,"" has given the Senator a tiny hint about top-top-secret ""O.F.F.""--a Presidential plan, masterminded by Library chief Harry Dunn, for an imminent nuclear first-strike against the USSR! Which of the Librarians is the Doctor? Coolidge considers all the suspects--including colleague/lover Vera. He gets a few clues when--in the novel's most farcical episode--he's sent to Europe to steal papers from the Soviet wastebasket during a minor US/USSR negotiation session. (A slapstick chase ensues.) And eventually, as the tone shifts into more conventional, even preachy territory, Coolidge figures out that there is no Doctor--unless he himself decides to fill that role, leaking the O.F.F. secret, in grim detail, to the Senator's pro-peace group. (He'd ""seen through the ultimate cover story, patriotism, and once you had seen that, it left you as nothing more than a hired killer. . . ."") So, in the final chapters, Coolidge blows the whistle--while the powerful super-hawks try their best to kill Coolidge. . . and to undermine the Senator's somewhat bribable peace committee. In basic outline, then--finding a mole, exposing a rightwing WW III plan--there's nothing new here. But Lee's cool, playful treatment--smart dialogue, inventively convincing technology, likably cynical people--makes it all (well, almost all) seem sharp and fresh, in an uneven but beguiling no-man's-land somewhere between Dr. Strangelove fantasy and dead-on-target Washington reality.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row