Carnival of Spies, by Robert Moss. New York: Villard Books. 499 pp. $18.95. ``Carnival of Spies,'' an intelligently written and thoroughly researched historical thriller by the author of ``Moscow Rules,'' is based on the life of a double agent who worked for the British in the 1930s and helped sabotage Stalin's plan to turn Brazil into a communist state. In 1913, the fictional hero, a German teen-ager named Johnny, becomes an ardent communist. He trains in Moscow and works for the Communist Party in England, Germany, and China. In 1933, disillusioned with Soviet policy, Johnny offers his services to British Intelligence. Soon afterward his Soviet masters send him to Brazil to help organize a communist revolt. The novel gains momentum as it progresses, especially after the scene shifts to Brazil, which is vividly depicted. This absorbing, complex novel is no ordinary thriller, because it emphasizes ideas instead of action. Misery, by Stephen King. New York: Viking. 310 pp. $18.95.

Stephen King's best sellers are known for efficient storytelling and gruesome events. In his latest novel, ``Misery,'' King explores the creative process, the craft of writing, the conflict between artistic and commercial success, and the relationship between the writer and his readers through the story of Paul Sheldon, best-selling author of a series of historical romances featuring a character named Misery Chastain. What happens to Paul after he is rescued from an automobile accident by Annie Wilkes, a psychotic former nurse who considers herself his No. 1 fan, is revolting. Paul, who killed off Misery Chastain in his last novel, is held prisoner by Annie, who sadistically forces him to bring Misery back to life in a new novel. No amount of thoughtful reflection on writing can justify the gore. Sphere, by Michael Crichton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 385 pp. $17.95.

``Sphere,'' a science fiction thriller by the author of ``The Andromeda Strain,'' has a fascinating premise: An American spaceship from the future is discovered on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The US Navy brings in a team of scientists to investigate it, and one by one the scientists are killed. Along with some thoughtful observations about the nature of science, space, and alien intelligence, Crichton provides a fast-moving, suspenseful plot, which, unfortunately, becomes silly and trivial toward the end.

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