When middle-aged British agent David Marsh is summoned home from Berlin to get the goods on his old chum Charlie Kelly (an M.P. now rumored to be a Soviet spy), any modestly savvy spy-fiction reader will suspect that Marsh is being set up by his bosses in some way. And so it turns out--though it takes a while for Marsh to catch on. He searches Charlie's apartment, finds a KGB micro-dot reader (in a talcum-powder can), has Charlie followed, spots him and girlfriend Jane in huddles with a Soviet attachÃ‰, and meanwhile flashes back to his 1930s Birmingham back-street-orphan childhood (a childhood brightened by Charlie and his kind, loving parents). He also falls rather in love with beautiful, smart, chance-acquaintance Aliki. Soon there's enough sort-of evidence to get Charlie and Jane taken into custody, and Marsh starts interrogating nervous Charlie--who doesn't deny some kind of dealings with the KGB but won't be specific; instead, he warns Marsh that Things Are Not What They Seem, with ominous references to ""the Alpha List""--which Marsh's bosses pretend not to know about. And when Jane, about to talk, is killed (by the British?), Marsh begins to trust Charlie, secretly visits a huge underground shelter, goes to Paris to meet a KGB chief, and learns The Troth: Charlie has been dealing with the KGB in an attempt to expose an elitist-British plan to save only 14,000 select folks in case of an (apparently imminent) nuclear war. (Worse yet for Marsh, dear Aliki is really a British agent who's been monitoring him.) So a very bitter, probably doomed Marsh decides to help Charlie escape, by boat linkup with the Soviets. . . . Sketchy, a bit insular, and not-very-plausible--with a narrator-hero who's likable yet only half fleshed-out (vague references to his young True Love who committed suicide). But, in comparison to the many over-convoluted, over-written spy thrillers, this is something of a brief, unpretentious, low-key relief--and a nice change-of-pace from Allbeury's more frenetic concoctions.