Phil Sherman is just about the least likely secret agents you ever read about. Pushing fifty, slightly paunchy, and the proprietor and sole employee of the Paris-based Trans-Eastern Supply Company, the ex-GI makes his living selling computers and their parts. In PEKING, book #1 of Don Smith's long-running Secret Mission series, a U.S. government representative named Shannon enlists Sherman to sell the Chinese government a supercomputer under the table. The scheme is that, hidden inside the computer, will be a bomb that will detonate inside a Chinese atomic plant.
Unfortunately, somewhere in shipment, the computer went on the fritz, and Sherman has to visit the plant in person to fix it. The last thing the Americans need is for the Chinese to go fishing around the electronics and find the explosives buried inside!
Published by Award Books in 1968, PEKING actually predates the men's adventure genre, more or less created with the publication of Pinnacle's first Executioner novel in 1969, and is more akin to Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm or Edward Aarons' Sam Durell novels. Smith is a lean storyteller like Aarons, but his main strength appears to be in establishing an exotic setting. His descriptions of the Iron Curtain read as though the author really spent a lot time either researching or visiting Red China.
PEKING is light on action, which is perhaps believable, considering the hero's inexperience in espionage. He does manage to hook up with a Chinese beauty, who helps him escape a nuclear blast at the risk of severe punishment from the government.
Smith wrote twenty more Secret Mission adventures over the next decade, and if PEKING is any indication of their quality, I'm inclined to give the rest a try.