Miniaturized, faintly comic espionage-tangles--with crisscrossing spies and motives (UK, US, USSR) centering, more or less, on a new French invention: a machine for archaeological deciphering that might have major usefulness in more military matters. An ambitious Soviet general hatches a scheme to steal the machine--so he can show up a Kremlin rival. Meanwhile, an American team of spy-mavericks (more than a little reminiscent of Ollie North & Co.) gets very interested too--because their agenda is to sabotage that ambitious, hawkish USSR general's career. (""So we're going to take on the Kremlin, subvert the power-structure in the supreme soviet, nail Stakhov, and reverse their nuclear policy, all without anyone noticing."") And also meanwhile the British get wind of all this action--and enlist Oxford computer-expert and amateur archaeologist Ben Jonson as a quasi-agent: he's sent to France to examine the machine, which is indeed soon stolen; then he's sent to Russia, to visit Tatyana Ivanovna (the grande dame of USSR archaeology) and learn what she knows about the machine. And Jonson quickly finds himself in peril in Moscow--where the subplots include the covered-up death of the USSR leader and the double-agentry of Jonson's contact in UK intelligence. Some intriguing, spry notions--but, crammed into 160 pages, without a steady focus (Jonson's a sporadic hero at best), the effect is oblique, fragmented, and confusing, more often irritating than fetching in its sardonic whimsy.