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How delightful to discover that Robert K. Massie, 82 years old, hasn’t lost his mojo. At a heft befitting its subject, his long-awaited “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” is a consistently nimble and buoyant performance, defying what might in a lesser writer’s hands prove a deadly undertow of exhaustively researched historical facts. Of course, Massie, who has spent almost half a century studying czarist Russia, has always been a biographer with the instincts of a novelist. He understands plot — fate — as a function of character, and the narrative perspective he establishes and maintains, a vision tightly aligned with that of his subject, convinces a reader he’s not so much looking at Catherine the Great as he is out of her eyes.