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FICTION : BARBAROSSA RED by Dennis Jones (Little, Brown: $16.95; 366 pp.).

August 31, 1986|Daniel Akst

This entertaining geopolitical thriller postulates the rise of a charismatic West German leader whose hopes for a reunited and rearmed Germany (and whose surprising political connections) trigger a Soviet invasion. Inspired by Sir John Hackett's "The Third World War: The Untold Story," which gives a scenario for such a conflict, Canadian author Dennis Jones' latest "what if" novel manages to remain interesting despite its wooden characters and stilted dialogue.

There is also a general ham-handedness about this book and no real seriousness beyond its topic. But Jones compensates with clean prose, suspense and a good story, sticking to the latter with admirable single-mindedness, given his failings. Spy buffs will also find a plethora of detail about the multilingual alphabet soup of government intelligence services. The press packet has a handy guide to them but the book doesn't, and the publishers' failure to include a map seems criminal. There are some key pages mixed up, too, apparently in the entire first printing.

Shortcomings notwithstanding, "Barbarossa Red" is fun for its Politburo scenes and plot twists, which are acceptably far-fetched. The pages turn fast, in a clanking sort of way, and while Jones isn't Graham Greene or John Le Carre, neither is this reviewer Edmund Wilson. The world is a big place, and its pleasures many. Lots of readers will find "Barbarossa Red" to be among them.

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