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'ALGIERS' HYPNOTIZES WITH STYLE

The Mysteries of Algiers by Robert Irwin Viking, 203 pages, $16.95.

The principal character in London novelist Robert Irwin's "The Mysteries of Algiers" is double agent Philippe Roussel, whose ideological obsession has obliterated his humanity.

An intelligence officer with the desert Foreign Legion in Algeria in the late 1950s, he's overtly battling the Arab forces seeking independence from mainland France. Covertly, however, he's spying on his own side for the revolutionaries. Roussel has secretly been a communist since his brainwashing by Red captors during the Indochina war.

Irwin's story relates how Roussel is exposed as a "mole" in the Foreign Legion, flees and enlists as a guerrilla terrorist, to whom nothing is sacred save "Das Kapital." At times, in this first-person narrative, he becomes a revolutionary bore, incessantly whining the babble of Marx-Lenin-Engels.

These wearying episodes aside, the novel often detonates with raw action and shines with stylistic brilliance. It is frequently a montage of sensations, eerie, erotic, disquieting, a mad meld of the hallucinatory and reality. Despite its faults, it possesses a hypnotic power.

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