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ENGLISHMAN Ivan Ruff has made a cottage industry out of espionage thrillers in which morality loses out to political expediency. It happened in 1987's "Deadly Reunion," again in 1988's "Blood Country," and repeats in "The Orphan Soldier."

British Secret Intelligence Service agent Lee Armor, in the title role, is sent into communist Poland to build a spy network while that shattered country -- his parents' homeland -- is cowering under martial law imposed because of unrest generated by the Solidarity union movement. During his danger-fraught mission, Armor eventually realizes that his chief back in London is cynically betraying him to the brutal Polish security police in return for intelligence favors from Warsaw.

Few spy novelists create backdrops, mood and atmosphere more effectively than Ruff. His descriptions of economically ravaged, soul-seared occupied Poland, with its bleak urban settings and stark rural landscapes quailing under oppression, fear and paranoia, summon up the most powerfully effective milieus imaginable.

Ruff, a 45-year-old teacher who lives in Dorset, is a word-craftsman, able, as are so few in this genre, to delve deeply into complex human issues and interrelationships while simultaneously providing white-knuckle excitement.

The Orphan Soldier, By Ivan Ruff. Walker. 251 pages, $19.95.

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