Eddie Brown is a secret agent for the Bureau of Trade.
Seriously. Well, sort of. Imagine what would happen when a bureau of the British government, feeling left out of the excitement of international intrigue, started up its own intelligence department with the belief that since everyone else was spying, the Board of Trade might as well do so from an industry point of view. With little experience and even less respect from established agencies, it would likely flounder badly initially and get a bad reputation but then get a couple of things right and start building an empire by sticking its finger in all kinds of pies.
That is the premise for the four-book series of the adventures of one of the world's most reluctant and, truth be told, inept secret agents in the history of spy fiction. Written by a mystery writer more known for her series about the fat, loutish British police inspector, Wilfred Dover, this series was a tongue-in-cheek collection of silly escapades ordered by a small fish determined to swim in a big pond.
The agent misfortunate enough to have to take on these assignments is Eddie Brown, a 27-year old teacher at a low-level comprehensive school in a backwoods part of the country. Extremely unhappy with his job and engaged to a woman he had no desire to marry, Brown felt trapped by life. He was truly trapped when he was approached with the 'choice' of working for the department. He demurred. Then he was told he either helped with the case presented him or be black-balled from every teaching institution in the country.
Brown had already had enough trouble getting a job and he was not quite sure why. When he took the Civil Service exam he scored the highest marks ever achieved. He attended Bristol University and graduated with a first class honours degree, again with the highest marks they had ever seen. All his qualifications were top notch, especially with languages. Still, he was rejected for translation jobs from the armed forces, BBC, Foreign Office, and every university he applied to. Nobody wanted him except a fourth-rate school in nowhere.
As mentioned, Brown was, as the series begins, engaged to a young woman but was constantly finding reasons for not having the ceremony. He admitted to himself that he only started dating her because dating a woman named Schwindlingfisch was rather unique. When he was enjoying her pleasures, he felt the least he could do was ask her to marry him so he did. That did not mean, though, that he should actually go through with it. Asking should have been enough.
Such is his life when his talents are needed by his country, or at least the Bureau of Trade. He was quite amused by the fact that the Intelligence section of the Bureau was called the Special Overseas Directorate. He was even more amused to find no one seemed the least bit amused or chagrin that the acronym was S.O.D. Not even Sir Malcolm Drom, the head spymaster.
He was also amused, then concerned to find that his training would take place at a special facility, naming a mental institution. He was told that since security was an issue, having a place that naturally would have iron gates, towers, barbed wire, guards, and monitoring equipment was a godsend. The fact that it meant you could get in but not out had Brown concerned. So did that fact that one of the skills he was taught there was the 17 different ways to commit suicide in a K.G.B. cell.
Brown is chosen for the first mission because he had a fluency in Russian and had a striking resemblance to a defecting Soviet agent. Brown certaily was not out to become an agent. Even when he lives through the mission and continues to work for the SODs, his attitude never improves.