PLAYING FOR LOWER STAKES. In a mystery, sometimes the plot involves an investigator discovering an event in common that identifies an individual or conspiracy bent on concealing an evil. Robert Harris's Fatherland involves one such conspiracy (a Third Reich that obtains a truce in World War II intends not to have detente with the United States ruined) and there are any number of quasi-factual books on the Kennedy assassinations purporting to make such identifications. Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost, the latest in a series featuring a Moscow gumshoe who has been through the stagnation, perestroika, Chernobyl, and the oligarchiks now put out to pasture to investigate supposed crazies who see Stalin haunting the Metro station near his wartime bunker. (Dictators and tunnels.) Some political consultants from the States are on hand to help a coalition of disaffected Chechen war veterans and Communist hangers-on develop a political movement. And yes, the gumshoe's investigation becomes a quest for serial killers. It seems churlish to put spoilers into a review of a mystery. I'll note for Book Review No. 1920 that some of the plot development borders on the implausible, and the evil being concealed does not rise to the level of a President murdered or of a genocide, which the political consultants, who end up playing a relatively minor role, would no doubt spin as "ethnic cleansing," particularly if it involves Polish counterrevolutionaries.

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