Originally published in the U.K. in 1967 under the title Private I, this exquisite series launch from British author Sangster (1927–2011) introduces John Smith, a former British spy working as a PI in London. Smith’s ex-wife, “one of those flowers that bloom in the warm glow of money,” hires him to get proof that her husband, Dunning, is having an affair with a man (in the 1960s of the novel, this is shocking). But when Smith visits the house of Dunning’s lover, Alworthy, in search of evidence, Alworthy shows him Dunning’s body, “a gash in his throat as wide as an open grave.” Smith’s arrested at the crime scene—and is almost immediately released thanks to the intervention of his former boss, Max, at the Service, who wants a notebook that once belonged to Dunning, who worked in the Foreign Office, and that Max believes Smith now possesses. Smith feels obliged to locate the notebook. Sangster has fashioned a tight and often violent tale of intrigue that raises questions about the morality of espionage. But his real triumph is Smith, a kind of anti–James Bond: not suave, not physically resourceful, and “not very good in bed.” But he is very clever and very funny. Spy fiction fans with a taste for nostalgia will revel in this dark, witty story. (Sept.)
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