January 27, 1997 12:00 PM

by Stephen Kimball

As a State Department “death officer,” young, ambitious Kate Verdi is bored. When U.S. citizens die abroad, she arranges for their remains to be shipped home and notifies their next of kin. The department’s plum foreign postings go to the comers with better connections than her working-class background yields. But she perks up when the mysterious death of a department official in China raises disturbing questions. As she investigates—via elaborate computer data banks—her superiors become uneasy.

Suddenly she is invited to join the Circle, a group of Yuppie achievers who are helped in their careers by Kendall Holmes, a highly placed Brahmin. It doesn’t take Kate long to discover that the Circle is somehow tied to the death that crossed her desk. And soon her own life is at risk.

The larger question, though, is why Kimball (Red Days; Night Cries) didn’t take more care. Verdi’s actions belong to an unreal realm where no one would—or could—tread. She barely blinks, for instance, when she has to gun down her lover. There are enough plot snafus and emotional dullness here to make a reader think Duty was the product of a government agency. (Dutton, $24.95)

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