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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 25, 1993|DICK RORABACK

HONOR AMONG THIEVES by Jeffrey Archer (HarperCollins: $23.; 381 pp.) Saddam Hussein wants the Declaration of Independence. The original. He wants to burn it, publicly, in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, on the Fourth of July. Show those Americans who's really the boss. He almost pulls it off, too, or maybe he does : There are copies of the Declaration abroad, and copies of copies, like a French farce, only with deadly intent. This is the premise of "Honor Among Thieves," a postulate linked with another, this one a personal attempt on Saddam's life. Bill Clinton is in the book, and Warran Christopher. Somewhat more fictional are a Yale professor who's CIA; a fashion model who's Mossad; "Dollar Bill," a tipsy Irishman who loves Guinness and Joyce in equal measure and is the world's greatest forger; a dauntless Kurd; a crooked presidential adviser, and any number of obsequious Iraqis.

With limitless money, Saddam hires the U.S. Mafia to snatch the Declaration, and it is a measure of Archer's craft that the heist--employing, literally, a cast of thousands--is at least semi-plausible, and so intricate that we find ourselves rooting for the dastards (shame!). The action is furious, but the real fun reposes with Dollar Bill, who insists on 200-year-old pen nubs and ink and parchment to duplicate spidery signatures and the original Declaration's misspelled word. (Did you know there was one?)

Climax comes in Baghdad with the double-switching of the document and a dash from Iraq in a pink '55 Cadillac supplied by the chauffeur's village. Where there's a Kurd there's a way. Next time you're in D.C. check out the declaration. It is the real one, isn't it?

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