TO PERPETRATE a series of bombings and murders and a hijacking, Palestinian Abu Nibal has put together a sort of Terrorists All-Star Team: The Red Army Faction (West Germany), the Red Brigades (Italy), Action Directe (France), the Basque separatists (Spain), the IRA, a few other choice anarchist groups and, of course, his own thugs join hands in violence to grab the attention of the world media. In weaving the intricate stories of this united terrorist front, the various security forces massed to stop their havoc, and the Russian Jewish family that, while pursuing its dream of freedom in the West, wakes up to the nightmare of Lufthansa Flight 267, Stevens jumps from one brief section to another, one corner of Europe to another, skillfully creating the sense of a vast anti-establishment underground armed to the teeth.

Characters have a common and slightly annoying habit of repeating, with gravity, whatever has just been said to them -- " 'Are you really in Vienna?' . . . 'Yes . . . I really am in Vienna' "; " 'Nothing at all?' . . . 'Nothing at all,' he confirmed"; " 'So late at night?' . . . 'So late at night,' {he} confirmed." But the author has commendably followed one of the cardinal rules of good fiction: treat your characters evenhandedly. Gordon Stevens is able to make the actions of his terrorists somehow comprehensible, even if we wouldn't much care to sit next to them at a dinner party, and he shows, too, the moral ambiguity of the nice guys. The mood inside the hijacked 727 seems authentically terrifying.

IN FRANK O'NEILL's exciting thriller, the borderland separating East Germany from West -- most pointedly, the dense woods, the barbed-wire fences, the numerous checkpoints -- is portrayed as some of the most morally topsy-turvy country there is: disillusioned communist soldiers risk their lives to claw and climb their way to freedom, and the East German border troops who mine the buffer zone routinely defect; the CIA awaits defectors with open arms, eager to learn what they know, yet wary that the defectors could be double-agents; a respected professor -- one of the few successful escapees to the West in 1962, the first year of the Berlin Wall -- now helps others escape, but assumes a suspiciously non-partisan attitude towards the politics of those he helps. Giovanni "Wop" Stears, a nervy CIA operative, is trying to find out if defector August Herter can be trusted and, if so, which of the East German higher-ups he's connected to -- and if he can be trusted.

Indeed, after following a slew of interrogations, scrambled messages sent and received, and the plight of a university student defector deceived into stealing back into East Germany for the enemy cause, we feel almost worn out by these liars, one craftier than the next. Virtually any character seems capable of discarding his or her allegiance at any point and revealing that he or she really stunts for the other side; double agents abound -- no one is to be trusted. Happily, O'Neill, also the author of Agents of Sympathy, avoids the purple-prose exposition of so many writers and prefers to let dialogue define personality and delineate one character from another. And yet his prose can take flight, too, as he describes here a defector imagining he sees his freedom just ahead: "It was not the frugal yellow light of cities he had known but a light like fireworks, like festivals, like crystal; light for the rich. It was the West." The double escape through the German countryside, into the waiting arms of the Americans, provides a breathless and unpredictable climax and -- though we may play the spy game as viciously as the other guys -- leaves no doubt, for now anyway, that West is best and East is least.

TO LOOK at Red China, you'd think it was quite large enough, wouldn't you, to overwhelm Taiwan? But the Chinese in this novel want to be sure the invasion is a success, and so they're not launching the attack until they've got Apogee, a computer that responds to any human voice speaking any language and which will render jet-pilot error obsolete. Simon Young, the English businessman whose company is creating and manufacturing Apogee, argues with his headstrong son, Mat, over the implications of making a fortune on their invention if the cost is the destruction of Taiwan. Meanwhile, various Taiwanese and Red Chinese factions try mightily to get hold of Apogee as the date of the invasion nears. One twist -- that the completion date of Apogee is set back considerably because no copies of the program were made by an overly cautious computer genius and the one he's working on gets erased -- strains the credibility of anyone who has worked on a computer for more than a few hours. At times, the abundance of Asian names may become a trifle fatiguing to the Western eye. Yet, for the bustling settings of Bangkok, Tapei and other points Far East -- "Happy pandemonium reigned. Swallows screeched in the trees, traffic roared around the perimeter of the King's statue, food-hawkers cried their wares" -- the large, peripatetic cast of characters and numerous double-crosses seem appropriate.

THE LOS ALAMOS National Laboratory in New Mexico is not very far west of the San Ildefonso Indian reservation, and sooner or later, there's bound to be an explosion between these two worlds -- one, the site of free-electron and X-ray lasers and scientists busily working at developing "Star Wars" technology; the other, the site of people who live peacefully off the land and have preserved part of their culture in the nearby Tsankawi ruins.

So when a Los Alamos mathematician is found murdered on the sacred Indian ground at Tsankawi in what appears to be a ritual killing -- his forehead is streaked by a wavy line of blood, prayer sticks have been placed at his feet -- the locals suspect a clash between cultures. The FBI, though, suspects espionage is involved, considering how classified the Los Alamos projects are. David Parker, the dead man's boss, finds himself the leading suspect in the murder, as a result of a frame-up and his slightly left-leaning politics. Except for an occasional conversation about Indian lore and artifacts, there is little in this book of what we might refer to, collectively, as "local color." Granted, Los Alamos is out in the middle of nowhere, but neither the lab nor the surrounding Southwestern landscape is described in such telling strokes that we feel we might like to get out and stretch our legs a bit in this locale.

THEY TELL us that if you have nothing nice to say, you should say nothing at all; by extension, if a reviewer has almost nothing nice to say, he should say almost nothing at all. In this first novel, Gayle Rivers, an expert on counterterrorism and the author of two nonfiction works (The Specialist: Revelations of a Counterterrorist and The War Against the Terrorists: How to Win It), has sleepwritten the account of the psychopathic Tim Bell, who is booted out of Britain's elite Special Air Service Squadron and proceeds to offer his unusual talents and winning personality to nasties he has spent his career fighting. Bell uses an old flame -- now married to his buddy -- to steal top-secret information that allows him to pull off one of the more pointless and incredible acts of terrorist shenanigans in recent literature. We're meant to believe that Bell's lover is so blinded by lust for him that she can't see what a jerk he's become -- "vertical, Angie had been a shy, almost diffident girl; horizontal, the inhibitions just poured away." Already I've said too much. ::

Andrew Postman is a writer living in New York City.