If variety is the spice of life, the latest espionage offerings provide a veritable literary pepper pot.
Marc Lovell's Spy on the Run is more memorable for characterization than plot. British spy Appleton Porter is the type one can't help liking. At 6 feet, 7 inches, with an embarrassing (for a spy) habit of blushing, he has a ''fondness for irrelevant details and useless facts.'' While fluent in six languages and passably proficient in five more, he scores only a 5 out of 10 for resistance to physical pain and only 6 for inventiveness in lying.
Because of his language talents, he is picked to rendezvous with a Russian gold medalist runner who has been selling information to the CIA. All Porter has to do to reach the meeting point, he is told by his superior, is to place in the British Isles finals of a 3,000-meter race. Adding zest to his assignment is his beautiful CIA counterpart, who just might be a double agent, and with whom he promptly falls in love. Delightful light reading, the novel also maintains a modicum of suspense.
On the other hand, Colin Forbes' The Stockholm Syndicate is a novel of the ''fight-fire-with-fire'' genre. The syndicate - a secret international conspiracy involving chiefs of multinational corporations, intelligence agents, financial institutions, and communications systems - specializes in terrorism and intimidation. While the authorities are unable to fight it - and indeed show little inclination to try - one group, Telescope, is willing to take on the syndicate. Founded by Jules Beaurain, a former Belgian police chief in charge of the antiterrorist division, Telescope is made up of members who have somehow been victimized by terrorism; the goal of the organization is destruction of the shadowy hidden government whose origin and key figures are unknown. At the same time, the syndicate is massing all its forces to annihilate Telescope. Taut and fast-paced, the novel provides plenty of action and suspense.
More in the line of traditional espionage fare is Anthony Price's Soldier No More, set in France during the late '50s. David Roche, a British agent, is also doubling for the Soviet KGB. Tired of the strain of his dual role, the young man wants out. But before leaving he must recruit another spy for the British, and David Audley appears to be the man. Digging into Audley's background, however, Roche finds more questions than answers.
For readers accustomed to ''good guys vs. bad guys'' books, ''Soldier'' may prove troublesome, and American readers who are unfamiliar with the Suez crisis and the Algerian turmoil of the '50s may be confused at times. But the plot twists, continuous suspense, and unexpected climax do make for good reading.
Evelyn Anthony's Avenue of the Dead brings back a refreshing figure - Davina Graham, a former British intelligence agent and now widow of a Soviet defector. Full of contempt for the intelligence service that failed to protect her husband from a Soviet assassin, Davina is thunderstruck when her former superior asks her to take on another assignment. A former schoolmate of hers, now the wife of a top US presidential adviser, has made drunken accusations that the adviser is a Soviet agent. Davina's mission: to win the woman's confidence and investigate the accusations. In so doing, she'll be pitted against the new head of the KGB - the man who masterminded the killing of her husband. All too often, women's roles in spy novels are ones of weakness rather than strength. Evelyn Anthony's heroine is a wonderful exception.
Inference of Guilt deals with the revelation that Dimitri Calinescu, a former CIA operative in Romania who now has US citizenship, may in fact have been a war criminal. A congressional committee is holding hearings, but the relevant CIA files have disappeared.
Author Harris Greene, himself a former intelligence officer, knows the world about which he writes. Dealing as much with the machinations of the CIA as the suspenseful action itself, the book is a cut above the run-of-the-mill spy story.