1966. Alexander Eberlin is a small, faceless civil servant, aged thirty-six, who permits himself one luxury - to dress like a dandy. His superiors instruct him to hunt down and destroy a vicious Russian assassin named Krasnevin, believed to be responsible for a number of British agents' deaths. Eberlin is terrified - with good reason. He IS Krasnevin.
Eberlin has one slim hope - the photo his bosses have on file is not of him, but of his Russian superior Pavel. In West Berlin, Eberlin warns Pavel, who is later murdered by persons unknown. Panicking, Eberlin tries to defect. Hampering him is Caroline Ann Heatherington, a dizzy debuttante he met at a party in London. Can he trust her? And what of Prentiss, a vacuous girl-chasing type? Does he know more than he's letting on?
Sadly, this was Marlowe's only spy thriller. Though complex, it also manages to be witty and absorbing, very much in the style of early LeCarre. Though a dreadful snob, Eberlin gains sympathy mainly because of the extraordinary predicament he's in. Even James Bond never had to eliminate himself. The character's loathing of the British is unmistakable; he can go to an orgy yet remain fully attired throughout. Each chapter is prefaced by a lovely quote from the man himself. Here's one: 'In the Land Of The Blind, the one eyed-man is in a circus'. Eberlin's basically a toff version of Len Deighton's 'Ipcress File' hero. Once the action moves to Berlin, the double and triple crosses pile up and the story becomes a tad repetitive but stay with it - a startling climax is coming. Unusually for a book written in 1966, the dreaded 'F' word puts in a few appearances. This is now number three in the list of my top ten all-time favourite spy novels.