Again, as in Charlie M (1977) and The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin (1978), Freemantle registers here as a minor-key, major-league presence in the espionage genre--taking bitter British spy Charlie Muffin (semiretired) through another nightmare mission, less comic and even more harrowing than most of Charlie's ordeals. When the novel begins, Charlie--having been double-crossed once again by his British Intelligence bosses--is serving a 14-year prison term for treason, viciously persecuted by both guards and fellow inmates (who despise Charlie's nonconformist individualism). Soon things get even worse, thanks to Charlie's new cellmate: blithe, arrogant traitor Edwin Sampson, an aristocrat desk-man at British Intelligence who's been convicted of slipping bushels of secrets to Moscow. And when Sampson starts planning a prison break, Charlie--hating the snob/traitor, hoping to strike a deal for his own freedom--goes to the authorities to squeal on his cellmate. Result? Charlie's spy-boss appears and orders him not only to help Sampson escape--but also to go along with Sampson as a fellow fugitive to Moscow! Why? Because a top-level, anonymous Soviet official has been leaking secrets to the West, and now wants to defect: the British need Charlie, in his role (half-real) as bitter traitor, to flee to Moscow and make contact with the would-be defector. With long-term prison the only alternative, Charlie dourly agrees. The prison-break and escape to Russia are a success--though Sampson's unnecessary killing along the way only increases Charlie's loathing of this amoral twit. Once in drab Moscow, there are months of interrogations--as Charlie reluctantly starts falling in love with one of his interrogators. Meanwhile, the Russians have figured out that there's a spy in their midst--and are desperately trying to pinpoint his identity (with help from the loathsome, eager Sampson). And, after several unsuccessful attempts to rendezvous with this Russian mystery-spy, Charlie decides to head back home, but not before wreaking some vengeance on smug Sampson--with a couple of acutely ironic twists saved for the very last pages. Unpretentious, sly rather than stately, but powerful nonetheless: the best of the Muffin novels thus far--with gritty backgrounds, sardonically amusing interludes, and a neat plot that's far from original yet shrewdly fashioned.