Struggling out of the Sahara, doughty Joe Rook (The Book of Rook, 1971), whose method is to ""blunder in forthwith, headfirst and headlong, full of high hopes and what-the-hell,"" makes Spain his stamping ground in this spirited comic aria set in the Fifties. With thirty thousand-dollar bills stuffed in an empty wineskin, a white djellabah from his desert days, and a metabolism like soda pop, it's little wonder that a dharma-bum like Rook makes loads of folks nervous: the police wonder if he's an American agent, the American consulate hopes he isn't a Red spy, anti-Franco bandits figure he's police, and the family of his sheltered inamorata are convinced he's simply nuts. What is he really then, this Joe? Not so fortunately for the novel, part of the answer is a pedantic prig. When he joins a tribe of Gypsies for two chapters, the campfires seem lit only for the sake of highlighting Joe's (and Cole's) scholarly, bookish knowledge of the Romany wanderers. And this front-and-center lecturing, underscored by pesky underlining--""Remember the whistle,"" the reader is instructed; ""we'll soon see. . .,"" etc.--extends to guerrilla warfare, Kahil Gibberish, guns, confidence schemes. But the game isn't over till the last out, and Cole's final inning is solid: coltish story-telling powers animate a Blue Climate Hotel denouement that laces together the whole spinney of a plot. And a take-it-or-leave-it adventurous innocence finally rises slightly faster than the hot air.