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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 16, 1994|DICK RORABACK

KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS by Lionel Davidson (St. Martin's: $22.95; 368 pp.) Sibir is tall, blond, comely, with gray eyes, finely set features. She is eight months pregnant. She is also 40,000 years old. Sibir--the name means "sleeper"--whose body was discovered in a crevasse, is being held by the Russians deep in an underground lab hacked out of permafrost. A lot more is going on in the Siberian station, a posting so secret that those who work there must agree never to leave. Biological-warfare research, possibly. Anti-missile experiments. And something of such monumental import that Rogachev, the scientist in charge, is determined to share it with the world. . . .

Here is intelligent, irresistible storytelling, the kind of tale that demands you turn to the back at once to measure the pleasure ahead, hoping for 1,000 pages, disappointed with 360. The writing is meticulous and detailed, the plotting credible, the pace rigorous, the setting exotic, the suspense excruciating. Lionel Davidson--"the best thriller writer around," says the Spectator--is back after 16 years, cementing his credentials. An Oxford professor gets an envelope with no letter, only a cigarette paper inside, a palimpsest, really, with a coded message. From this scrap, the CIA, in a tour de force, is able to establish writer, provenance, courier. Rogachev is asking for a visit--to his virtually hermetic lab--from one Porter, a Canadian Indian of vast skepticism and preturnatural resourcefulness. The grail, it develops, is a discovery of incalculable benefit to mankind; not a cure for cancer, but comparable. It is simultaneously of immensely important military application. Rather than share the former, the Russians guard the latter. "Many tricky dicks walk the trail," says Porter, "have a drink." Do, and post a sign: "Do not disturb."

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