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DRUGS, HIT MEN, SPIES AND CONTRAS

Burn Season By John LantiguA Putnam 221 pages, $19.95
CENTRAL AMERICA, rich in revolutions, gunrunning and drug trafficking, is a tailor-made milieu for novels of adventure and international intrigue, as John Lantigua's "Burn Season" excitingly attests.

He sets his thriller in Costa Rica, the little democratic country abutting some of the most politically volatile geography in this hemisphere: Panama and Nicaragua. Leading character Jack Lacey is an American who fought with the Sandinista guerrillas to topple Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. In a bow to the film "Casablanca," Jack now runs a club-casino in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

Matters are coming to a boil between Castro-backed Sandinistas and U.S.-supported contra rebels in neighboring Nicaragua. The proprietor of the Tropical wants only to keep clear of involvement when a covert phase of the Nicaraguan melee spills over into his adopted country. But friends and foes from the past turn up, and Jack quickly is trapped in a welter of Sandinista spies, contra hit men, CIA meddlers and cocaine smugglers. Result: explosive action and non-stop reading.

Bronx-born author Lantigua knows his story's neighborhood intimately. Before settling in Thailand, he reported from Honduras and Nicaragua for several major U.S. news publications.

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