The spy story is incidental to acclaimed Spanish novelist Marías's elegant but prolix second volume of a projected trilogy (after Fever and Spear) narrated by Jacques (or Jaime) Deza, a Spanish expat in London and former Oxford instructor working as an analyst for the intelligence service MI5. Deza's inscrutable, nihilistic handler, Bertram Tupra, doesn't clarify Deza's mission when he brings him to a nightclub to accompany the wife of a contact. There, Tupra terrorizes and beats a man for hitting on the wrong woman. Though this central action unfolds at length, Marías's real concern-evidenced by the dense but not always incisive philosophizing that makes up this mostly internal novel-is the process of reflection rather than the ideas themselves. Like Marías, Deza is an accomplished translator, keenly aware of the imprecision of language; his inner monologues sprawl and fold back in on themselves. In the novel's most compelling section, though, Deza recounts his father's recollections of the Spanish Civil War, which revealed the capacity of ordinary people to commit and then disassociate themselves from extraordinary brutality. With the elder Deza's voice, Marías demonstrates his adroitness at narrative, which makes the rest of the digressive novel all the more frustrating.