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SPY AMES IS HOT STUFF IN PUBLISHERS' RACE TO HIT BOOKSHELVES

Before Aldrich Ames was uncovered as a Russian spy last year, he was considered as boring and inconspicuous as bureaucrats come.

Ames, a CIA officer, by all accounts, is mediocre, plodding and generally unattractive. He is still thought of as mediocre, plodding and unattractive, but as a book subject, Ames has become quite the rage."Sellout: Aldrich Ames and the Corruption of the C.I.A.," by James Adams, has popped up in bookstores, the first of at least five new books on Ames and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Consequently, publishers, agents and authors, irked that others had the same clever idea, have been scrambling for earlier publication dates and other ways to position their respective books as the most interesting of the lot.

Viking, the publisher of "Sellout," insists that because Adams, the Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London, is British, his book takes the "more global view" of the CIA's failures, said Jane von Mehren, his editor.

Warner Books, which is publishing an Ames book by Peter Maas, is "the definitive hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute account" of how Ames was captured, according to a statement from Warner. As his own cover story, Maas had told journalists and others in Washington that he was writing a novel. The title of the book, which is really nonfiction, recently changed from "Spy Killer" to "Killer Spy."

"Betrayal" (Random House), by three New York Times reporters, Tim Weiner, David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis, promises "no anonymous sources," "unrivaled veracity," cinematic scenes and scads of firsts and exclusives, including "eight hours of exclusive jailhouse interviews" with Ames, said Ivan Held, a Random House spokesman.

"Nightmover" (HarperCollins) by David Wise, the dean of American espionage writers, will focus heavily on the damage Ames' spying did and how he remained undetected for so long.

And pulling up the rear is Pete Earley's book on Ames, which at about 500 pages will be the fattest of the rival books. (The others are 250 to 400 pages; prices range from $20 to $25.)

"This is the only book that will truly detail the inside workings of the CIA and the whole history through the eyes of Ames," said Robert Gottlieb, Earley's agent at William Morris. The book features interviews with Ames' handlers in Moscow, he said.