Loading a catastrophe into every chapter and ``using psychosexual constructs to explain world events,'' Pieczenik ( Blood Heat ) draws on his State Department crisis management experience to fuel this provocative political thriller. Dr. Desaix Clark, psychiatrist and crisis consultant for the White House, returns home from a negotiating session in Japan to find Washington poised for nuclear war, locked in the worst crisis since presidents Westview and Zotov succeeded Bush and Yeltsin. Westview warns of a coup against his presidency, while the Secretary of State insists that Westview himself is behind the plot and begs Clark to declare him insane. Meanwhile, Zotov is abducted in a Russian coup that seems connected to the U.S. crisis by a mysterious ``Project Baltimore.'' As top cabinet personnel are assassinated, Clark and Mary Dougherty, Westview's security chief, team up to crack the mystery. Only intermittently suspenseful, the narrative would have been more successful if the protagonists had less ego and libido and more integrity. Much of the confused action is espionage cliche, but readers may remain focused, since the question of who the bad guys are is adroitly withheld until the end.
An unusual hero makes his debut in this geopolitical thriller, which pits the Russian and American heads of state against their own security aides. Desaix Clark is a psychiatrist and crisis manager who not only tutors major multinational corporations in psychological principles but also serves in the president's inner circle. The author, who himself followed this unusual career path, conveys a sure grip of technical information and peppers the narrative with literary quotes. But he also relies on a degree of vicious and manipulative violence that overshadows his innovative merit. In addition, his penchant for loading up characterizations with irrelevant details distracts from the narrative. Finally, while a far-fetched plot is not a handicap in this genre, the double- and quadruple-crosses of this plot are so convoluted that its amusement value dissipates early on.