March 26, 1979 12:00 PM

by Eric Pace

What began as a caper yarn has turned into a historical novel between printer and bookstore. The villains, it happens, seek to steal $3 billion worth of Iranian crown jewels. They force the American hero, a gem expert with an unsavory past, to help them by kidnapping his daughter. (The heroine is a tough hooker.) Then at the conclusion the Shah himself shows up to pass out rewards. So much for historicity. The book is still worth reading, though, for its fascinating portrayal of the volatile Iranians. Pace, a New York Times foreign correspondent, offers shrewd insight into the nature of these curiously formal people, portraying them as having a need for beautiful manners to cover the frivolity and cruelty that lie beneath the surface of their society. As the cliche would have it, Pace’s fictional Iran is often more believable than the true one showing up on the TV news these days. (Random House, $8.95)

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