As writers from le Carr‚ on down struggle to retool their spymasters for the glasnost era, Sweden's bestselling novelist shows that he may have been managing the trick for years, as his seventh novel (and first US publication) presents his freewheeling agent Carl Hamilton juggling more roles than James Bond ever imagined. Hamilton's capable of old-fashioned heroics, as his violent rescue of two Swedish doctors taken hostage in Beirut demonstrates. But the way the rescue is played outCarl joins forces with a PLO agent whose masters ask a favor in returnshows him as nimble-footed at down-and-dirty diplomacy as he is at tradecraft. From the very beginning of the novel, when a Soviet defector identifies Carl as a double agent, through the ensuing labyrinthine complications, Carl walks a tightrope between Bondlike fieldwork and public relations. As the story opens, he sweats to defend himself to his bosses and keep the Soviets in the dark about an earlier killing he took part in; then, after the Mideast interlude, he flies to Moscow to assassinate Stig Sanderstr"m, a Russian spy who took off from Sweden during an undersupervised conjugal leave. Playing one role (dissipated former agent) for his GRU watchdogs and another (wide-eyed intelligence operative) for his innocent accomplice, pianist Irina Dzerzhinskaya, he tracks down Sanderstr"m and kills him under the noses of his Soviet counterparts, then not only forestalls any possible counterstrikes, but, when the story leaks out at home, goes on TV with a performance Ollie North might envyeven as he's working behind the scenes with the Soviets to figure out who's spreading rumors of an agent war by killing operatives on bothsides of the fence. This is the way the contemporary espionage novel ought to be written: wide-ranging, smart, and immensely resourceful in ringing the changes on cold war spy clich‚s.