Spying is a complicated business, and that's not even counting the spying part. The intelligence acronyms are hard enough to keep straight (FI, CI, HUMINT, COMMI). Besides that, there are "covert, overt, clandestine, and paramilitary" categories of each. Lulu is FI/HUMINT/NOC, and lower echelon enough to find human intelligence "an oxymoron."
However, she's pleased to discover official duties and her romantic inclinations mesh when she is assigned to Morocco. It's a "basic mission" to update the database with a long-term goal of battling extremist Muslim groups. The best part of the assignment is that it will enable her to rekindle her "little love affair with Ian Drumm," with whom she had worked in international aid in Kosovo.
Ian, who runs a luxurious haven for expatriate Europeans and Americans in Marrakech, warmly welcomes her reappearance, but seems preoccupied. In the process of identifying several citizens who are not what they appear to be, Lulu also finds herself in a subtle tug-of-war for Ian's attentions.
Lulu in Marrakech is espionage light, but Diane Johnson is practiced at balancing the knotty questions of varying cultural constraints against self-centered, yet often freedom-based, Western values. Lulu's interactions with a suspicious Saudi couple, an American gay twosome with a child, a Moroccan colonel, a girl in danger of being killed by her brother, and a number of other citizens along the way embroil her in a dubious development where life turns serious and the truth is hard to read.
Johnson, author of 14 previous books, has been a finalist several times for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Her latest novel is consistently absorbing, though plagued by an unresolved ambivalence, which probably reflects the nature of the subject itself. Readers might find themselves wondering at the end why anyone would want to be a spy, though the intermittent excitement probably makes up for other shortfalls. One thing's for sure—Lulu would testify to it—if you want to be a really good spy, don't fall in love.