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Spy novel. Sophisticated thriller: A capitalist in Soviet toils

The Red Fox, by Anthony Hyde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 321 pp. $17.95. Aside from the quality of the writing, the key to a good spy novel or political thriller is belief, or the author's ability to make the reader suspend his disbelief long enough for him to get caught up in the plot. There are various ways of doing this: By creating a believable, sympathetic character, who, in effect, takes the reader by the hand and leads him through the story; by formulating a plot that has enough true elements in it to make the fabricated portions seem plausible; by generating suspense

through the frequent occurrence of unexpected events; or by constructing an intriguing and complicated puzzle to which pieces are added often enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

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Anthony Hyde employs all of these methods in his first novel, ``The Red Fox,'' a well-written and believable thriller that contains elements of a murder mystery, an adventure story, and a historical novel. This combination makes ``The Red Fox'' the most entertaining and suspenseful novel I've read so far this year.

Hyde's sympathetic main character is Robert Thorne, a journalist in his early 40s, who grew up in the capitals of the world with his Foreign Service father and lived for many years in the Soviet Union. Thorne's quiet life of writing and researching in Charlottes-burg, Va., is interrupted by a telegram from his former fianc'ee and the only woman he has ever loved, May Brightman. May's adoptive father, Harry Brightman, who amassed a fortune importing furs, is missing. At May's request, Thorne follow s Brightman's trail from his home in Toronto to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where May was adopted in 1940, to Detroit, where Brightman is found dead, an apparent suicide.

As Thorne tries to find out why Brightman died, he learns that the man's past contains many secrets and discrepancies involving May's parentage and the circumstances surrounding her adoption, his fur-importing business, his involvement with the Soviet government in the 1930s and '40s, and the whereabouts of a vast treasure of Soviet gold entrusted to his care during WWII.

Thorne also discovers that there are others on the trail of Brightman's past -- in particular, a redheaded Russian whose path keeps crossing and re-crossing Thorne's as he follows clues from Detroit to New Hampshire; Pennsylvania; Quebec; Washington, D.C.; Paris; and a tiny village in the Soviet Union.

Along this twisting and sometimes bloody trail, Thorne learns the facts about Brightman's involvement with the Soviet war effort and the activities of a dissident movement within the Soviet government. He discovers the truth about May's parentage and adoption, and, in an exciting climax, the truth about both Brightman's death and the death of his own father almost 30 years earlier.

``The Red Fox'' is hard to put it down. Each fact uncovered, each point of mystery cleared up, leads to another clue, another mystery. And as in real life, not all the mysteries are solved conclusively. Certain aspects of May's background and the fate of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, are treated with a tantalizing inconclusiveness that lends credibility to this exciting novel.

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