Household at his most old-fashioned--which means both good news and bad news. The good news is that when French businessman Georges Rivac becomes innocently involved in the crossfire between the KGB and a group of East European anti-Communists, there are some splendid scenes ahead, in the atmosperic John Buchan manner: the drowning of a KGB agent on the ferry across the Channel (Georges is going to London to seek advice from the English authorities); an escape from a cabin cruiser into the muddy, rural Thames (Georges has been captured by the KGB and their English cronies); a vividly grisly moment when wine is used to eliminate the evidence of blood. Such sequences--and the 39 Stepsish feeling of fleeing through the deceptively serene English countryside--are worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, the price of old-fashioned admission also includes some laughable dialogue (some of the dialogue, however, is grand), a contrived pivot for the plot (Georges is carrying a list of Iron Curtain generals who'd join up with NATO in case of war), and--by far the biggest problem--a hero and heroine who are hard to take seriously; Household seems to be making up their fuzzy characters as he goes along. Tetchy little Georges, sometimes a standard hero, is also played for comedy: after killing one of the villains with a barge pole through the neck, Georges cries, ""Good God! I'm afraid I've hurt him!"" And on the way he acquires an ally in Zia, a Hungarian beauty and athlete who is Superwoman with an accent. Their growing love is the most inevitable but least likely development in this unlikely but appealingly eccentric throwback--just the thing for thriller fans who find Le CarrÃ‰ too dense, Ambler too dark, MacInnes too bland, and Ludlum too dumb.