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"The Secrets We Kept" by Lara Prescott; Knopf (325 pages, $26.95)

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The dazzling prologue of "The Secrets We Kept" is a tough act to follow, but Lara Prescott pulls it off. Written in first-person plural, it's from the perspective of women who toil in the secretarial pool at the CIA in the early 1950s. They tell us they are smarter and more skilled than the suits they work for and they close the prologue by asserting, "Unlike some of the men, we could keep our secrets."

The plural chapters continue throughout the novel, but they're interspersed with first-person accounts from several characters, including Irina, a Russian-American who quickly earns duties in addition to typing. Her job? Helping to smuggle into the U.S. a copy of Boris Pasternak's unpublished "Doctor Zhivago," which the CIA intends to get into the hands of as many Americans and Russians as possible.

Prescott (yes, she was named after the heroine of "Zhivago") also includes chapters featuring Pasternak and the real-life inspiration for Lara and, although they're involving, they're not as strong as the voices of the secretaries, who we miss every moment "The Secrets We Kept" isn't with them. Perhaps a sequel is in order, one where we find out what other secrets they're keeping?

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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