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Exotic spy shenanigans in the 1880s, with more Victorian piffle (but nice piffle) than blood and thunder. Young Captain Mark Aspern, holder of the Victoria Cross but something of a fresh post-adolescent, is spying in St. Petersburg during the winter and swims through pages of lavish dinners and iced vodka to arrive at Camac's first plot turn: Mark's counterpart, a Colonel Vastly Danin of Russian espionage, has an invitation for him from General Melikov, the pleasant old pederast who is intent on misleading the British Army into thinking that the Russian Army is not massed on the borders of India for an invasion. Danin's ravishing mistress Anna Dolguriky warns Mark that Danin is out to trick him, so he heads for Peking by a roundabout route, enabling hint to spy on the enemy troops. In Peking Mark's American girlfriend Kitty catches up with him; they become engaged, despite his enchantment by Danin's mistress (who has also shown up). But now Mark must leave on a spy mission through Central Asia to Calcutta, and he soon finds himself chasing a wisp of a Chinese princess, Mei Ling, who has been kidnapped. While rescuing her, then falling in love and seducing her and subsequently becoming engaged, he finds himself crossing invisible sabers with Danin and with a mock host of Russian troops meant to mislead his spy report. Which of his three ladies will he wind up with? The climax has all the impact of an embroidered cushion, but a certain old-fashioned audience may like green-silk plots with more kissing than killing, more tricks than action.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners