Ray Alan is the name of the journalist author of this first, floppy stab at spy suspense. It's also, amateurishly, the name of Alan's hero-narrator, a Cyprus-based journalist/special-British-agent who scoots over to Beirut when he gets a coded, unspecific cry for help from Arnold Amery--an ex-British agent currently involved in Mideast mining. Within hours of Ray's arrival, of course, Arnold is dead, with Ray himself a framed suspect. So Ray must track down Arnold's killers and, in the process, uncover the reason for that original S.O.S. The possible areas of motivation: mining discoveries (including hot-stuff zirconium); drug-running; Arnold's activities as an agent for Europe's ""Service Three."" The suspects: Arnold's colleagues; Ray's suave French merchant buddy; a shady English businessman; a tycoon and his mystery-woman aide. And the unshapely sleuthing takes Ray deep into Syria and out to the coast--while author Alan lumbers through every clichâ€š of burnoose thrillerdom. (Ray is bopped on the head countless times, he's abducted to the ""House of the Pasha,"" he's tantalized by two earthy local femme fatales, his key witness gets shot just before the Big Confession, etc.) The ultimate secret? Palestinian nastiness involving a drug connection to Israel. Ho-hum. True, Alan's debut is not entirely unpromising: he sometimes shows an easy, self-deprecating, ironic style--and the atmospheres are fitfully evocative. But the listless kitchen-sink plotting is further flattened by an annoying dependence on footnotes and by dialogue that can lapse into truly wretched pseudo-dialect (Scots, French, Dutch) or Bogart-movie groaners (""We might have climbed rainbows together. But we haven't a chance now. Because in this whole sweet-smelling Levant I had one real friend, and you and your pals had to shoot him""). An also-ran in a crowded field.