A complicated, rather low-key international thriller with a familiar premise (the USSR and the US poised on the verge of nuclear confrontation) and an unusual battleground: the archipelago of Svalbard midway between Norway and the North Pole--Norwegian territory but heavily populated by Russians. The fragmented action begins when odd doings suggest that the USSR may be planning a takeover of the Svalbard islands. The Soviet consul in the area--closet capitalist Obruchev--finds himself receiving scary visits from KGB agents who demand Obruchev's help in diverting Westerners from the ice fields. Meanwhile, sexy West German journalist Ulrike von Mencke--a fierce anti-Nazi fearful of German rearmament--gets information suggesting that it's Germany, not Russia, who's up to nasty doings in the Svalbard ice fields; she relays her suspicions to American disarmament expert Martin Dodds, who's in Tromso for a conference. (They become lovers.) And ultimately the most active response to the mysterious goings-on comes from Bjorn Holt, the Harvard-educated aide to Norway's foreign minister. Holt hears Ulrike's story, realizes that there is indeed a Russian takeover plan, and--when he can't convince Norway's Prime Minister (who's a bit of a drunk) to confront the Soviets--he mounts his own campaign, with low-level CIA agents, in Washington. But eventually Holt realizes that the US won't respond either. Why not? Because Washington's bomb-happy rightwingers want a USSR invasion--which will justify a nuclear tactical strike by the US. Finally, then, there's a small but bloody climax on the ice fields . . . while Holt tries to convince the Russian Ambassador in Washington that the Soviets are playing right into the hands of US extremists. Far from gripping--but strong on well-spoken chat, wryly drawn characters, and absorbing scenery.