Half gothicky romance and half political suspense, this not-quite-coordinated tale is nevertheless suffused with humor, warmth, and cleverness--and will certainly be a relief to Canning fans after his recent lapses into silliness (The Doomsday Carrier, 1977) and Arthurian rehash (The Crimson Chalice, 1978). It begins marvelously, as Sarah Branton, an English-born nun in a Portuguese convent, attempts suicide by drowning (she mistakenly thinks she's pregnant)--but is happy to be saved by a nautical passerby, ugly but lovable Richard Farley. Gushingly thankful, Sarah takes platonic refuge with tight-lipped loner Richard--he's living in a borrowed villa--and starts to revel in her new freedom. But, meanwhile, Sarah's actions are being followed from British Security offices in London. Why? Because Sarah, unbeknownst to her, is the illegitimate daughter of a titled politician, an ambitious, shady old fellow (""a first-class snake"") who fears that his mistress--Sarah's deceased mum, a notoriously devious wench--may have written down the very embarrassing secrets of some old spy-related murders. And indeed Sarah does soon come into possession of her mother's steamy diary, so various British agents (some employed by the politician, some by his enemies in British Security) are following her and Richard as they take in some scenic Portuguese locales. Thus, by the time that Richard and Sarah do finally acknowledge their love and head home to England to get the blessing of Sarah's other, supposed ""father,"" the stage is set for a modest array of chases and shoot-outs. The various climaxes are dark and ironic--and they should be absolutely splendid. They aren't, however, because Sarah doesn't ever quite click as a character and because there are a few too many lapses in the pacing (some sluggish, corny stretches with the lovers). But never mind. Even this imperfect hybrid is a festival of ingenious double-plotting, idiosyncratic dialogue, and attractively offbeat supporting characters--all doused with that odd, irascible Canning charm.