The eponymous narrator of Lulu in Marrakech, Diane Johnson's sweet, if insubstantial, new confection of a novel, is an unlikely spy for the CIA who accepts an undercover posting to Morocco. What is pretty thirtysomething Lulu Sawyer's job exactly? To collect ''human intelligence'' on Muslim terrorist networks by infiltrating the affluent expat culture and listening to gossip over cocktail-laden alfresco lunches. Nice work if you can get it, and the ideal career for a Johnson heroine, enabling the author of Le Mariage and Le Divorce to do what she does so well: share her own considerable human intelligence about the adventures of American women abroad.
Conveniently, Lulu just happens to have a rich, handsome British boyfriend already living in Morocco when her plane touches down. Ian Drumm who may or may not be the trustworthy lover he appears resides on a posh estate with a swimming pool, a staff, and an endless string of houseguests for maximum narrative intrigue. Among the colorful figures to be found opining on Islamic culture while lounging poolside: a famous middle-aged poet and his doleful, pregnant wife; a French sex tourist; a politically incorrect English grandmother; and a wealthy Saudi couple with heaps of Louis Vuitton luggage and even more marital problems. Much of their conversation concerns the plight of Suma, a lovely French-Algerian au pair who has come to Morocco, purportedly fleeing a brother who threatened to kill her for defiling the family's honor.
With a cast of characters like this flirting, making love, talking to and constantly about each other do you really need a fancy plot? Probably not, though Johnson dutifully supplies a thoroughly implausible drama about Lulu's role in the abduction of a terrorist suspect. As a government spook, she's a washout. As the bemused observer of a complicated, chatty multicultural social set and her own complicated romantic yearnings she's a cool, self-aware delight. B