For a while, this tale of a British investigator's inquiry into a secret mortal-combat cult has a certain jaunty spirit-of-the-hunt (with echoes of The List of Adrian Messenger or TV's The Avengers)--but all too soon it becomes drawn-out, ponderous, and just plain dumb. The hero-narrator is an unnamed ""business consultant"" hired by insurance tycoon Six Bryan Proctor to explain the large number of recent deaths all over Europe (some of them obvious murders) involving young men both as victims and beneficiaries. And, with help from investigator Eric (interviews with victims' families) and researcher Rose (analysis of the deaths' geographical distribution), the narrator soon has his theory: ""They're killing each other off. . . some violent underground cult whose members fight duels to the death at prearranged times,"" with champions who win all the accumulating insurance money. How to track down the organizers? By identifying the current combatants. But before this difficult process can get underway, Eric is savagely attacked, which means that there's a leak somewhere close--and indeed the narrator then finds the records of the ""Game"" in the office of Sir Bryan's son (who blames dad for mom's demise). Instead of making all this public, however (it would kill old Sir B.), the narrator uses his new info to zero in on the time and place of the next duel: ""I intend to try and convince the two so-called Ludi Victors that the Game is literally up. . . ."" And from there on, the novel fizzles--as the narrator heads for the Arizona desert to engage in philosophical debate and hand-to-hand combat with the Games-men, then returns to unmask the real organizer of the Game (no surprise), but winds up unable to stop the Game, forced to join it himself. . . . Fairly sprightly in those first 100 pages of sleuthing, but after that the not-very-original basic premise (a close relation of the Rollerball genre) isn't enough to support the pretentious chat, the distracting padding (the narrator's affair with an unstable married woman), or the poorly-paced plotting. Despite some appeal for outdoors-combat devotees, then--marginal entertainment at best.