Thus far, the adventures of CIA-agent Blackford Oakes have followed him chronologically through the Fifties and early Sixties: from Saving the Queen to See You Later Alligator, from the Space Race to the Berlin Wall to the Cuban Missile Crisis. But now, in one of the series' weaker installments, Buckley returns to 1954--for a fanciful version of secret events leading up to the international recognition of West Germany and the execution of Soviet monster Lavrenti Beria. When a US/UK commando mission to "liberate" Albania fails miserably, Oakes and his CIA mentor Rufus realize that there's a monstrous leak in Anglo-American Intelligence security. So Oakes sets out to track down the problem (is there a "mole" in the CIA or MI6?), following a few strange London clues--including the sighting of a British commando leader who supposedly died in that failed Albanian coup! Meanwhile, however, the reader learns the real source of the leak: Sir Alistair Fleetwood, young Nobel-winning scientist, is a secret agent for the USSR. He has been using his astonishing invention, an electronic telescope called the "Zirca," to read teletypes (from 400 feet away) through the window of the US Embassy's cable office. Furthermore, Sir Alistair is in the midst of providing KGB-kingpin Beria with a copy of the Zirca--so that Beria can eavesdrop on Party leader Malenkov, whom he intends to depose and/or assassinate!! Will Oakes learn the secret of the Zirca in time to prevent the Beria coup, which would heat up the Cold War? That's the primary (and skimpy) suspense here, delivered in a plot that's less clever than contrived and disjointed. Under-par, too, is Buckley's use of history this time: none of the real-life figures (Beria, Malenkov, the Dulles brothers, Ike) comes across with freshness or vigor; the British queen and PM are confusingly imaginary (cf. Saving the Queen). And, while lacking the seriousness of Stained Glass or The Story of Henri Tod, this latest outing for Blackford Oakes--as bland and faceless a hero as usual--also lacks the stylish wit and sly charm of Buckley at his brightest (Who's On First, See You Later Alligator). Nonetheless: reasonably lively, relatively literate spy-diversion--especially in contrast to the lumbering idiocies of Robert Ludlum (below).