Beguiling first fiction--part thriller and part rite of passage--about a deceptively undistinguished English innocent who cunningly outwits dangerous enemies and angry superiors to unmask villains and win the hand of a beautiful girl. Ackland, a former civil servant, effectively mines his own past to give this tale a nice gloss of authenticity. Guy Colchester, fresh out of college, is working at the Ministry of Exports in London simply because his father wants him to serve his country, and, since there's no war, the next best thing to soldiering that he can do is be a civil servant. But Guy is bored by the tortuous decision-making, buck-passing, and careerism. Meanwhile, his colleagues think he hasn't the right stuff to become one of them, but under duress, Guy, like many of his oft-told predecessors, begins to reveal surprising abilities. When he's approached by the elegant Mr. de la Fosse to work for what Guy believes is the British Secret Service, his decision to accept is clinched by meeting Julia, de la Fosse's lovely assistant. The Service wants him to provide them with documents recording what a British company--possibly a front for a chemical-weapons factory-- is actually sending to a mining plant in the Middle East. Soon, Guy is delivering even more information just so that he can continue seeing Julia. But Guy isn't the only spy; someone is keeping an eye on the Minister himself, who's stayed too close to his old employers in a major bank. Spies abound, in fact, as Guy is nearly murdered by an Arab, meets the head of the real Secret Service, realizes he's been duped, and is accused of treason. All ends happily, of course, thanks to some quick thinking and bold action on Guy's part. A literate romp through the bureaucracy with plenty of danger and riveting excitement: a promising debut.