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The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (Knopf: $17.95; 321 pp.)

September 29, 1985|Harry Trimborn | Trimborn is a Times assistant foreign news editor. and

This first novel by Canadian writer Anthony Hyde takes the reader on a treasure hunt through the United States, Canada, France and the Soviet Union in search of a fortune coveted by a very nasty Russian. But the villain is not, as might be expected, an agent of the KGB or its masters.

Rather, he is one of a group of dissidents--if that word can be used in this context--within the Soviet Establishment that feels the Kremlin has botched things. The group, as one of the characters puts it, wants to "turn Russia from a Communist dictatorship into a military one."

The key to the hunt lies in unlocking the mysteries enveloping a Canadian businessman, Harry Brightman, who amassed a fortune in selling Russian furs in the West. Lured into the hunt is the narrator, an ex-journalist, Robert Thorne, a free-lance writer on Soviet affairs whose marriage offer was once spurned by Brightman's devoted adopted daughter, May, a figure as mysterious as her father. Thorne is a relentless pursuer who is able to pull off such miracles as getting a Soviet visa within 48 hours.

Along the way, Thorne probes the complex issue of why Americans and other Westerners became Soviet spies only to be later disillusioned by such events as the Soviet interventions in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The book's pace is slowed by Hyde's overzealous attempts to lend authenticity and suspense to his tale. He spends far too much space on such matters as detailed descriptions of the settings and furnishings at scenes of confrontations. And there is far too much of the it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night approach in evoking the mood.

More serious is Hyde's failure to develop the character and aims of the villain and his associates. He and they are shadows that never take on substance.

Yet the plot has enough surprises and intrigues to sustain interest, and Hyde has adroitly woven actual events and personalities into the narrative.

Also, he and his publisher have displayed a measure of courage in offering a thriller that lacks a standard ingredient in such works: There is no sex in "The Red Fox."

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