Flannery (Counterstrike, Eagles Fly, The Zebra Network), who also writes as David Hagberg (The Capsule, Desert Fire, Twister), here offers a multifront techno-thriller that turns on the power vacuums created by the Soviet Union's breakup. While the author's shooting script has been overtaken by geopolitical events (notably, Ukraine's agreement to give up its atomic ordnance), his casus belli scenario has enough plausible conflict and momentum to keep most readers in rapt suspense until the final pages. At any rate, on the eve of Operation Pit Bull (large-scale Russo-American war games offshore of Rio de Janeiro, in which both countries have substantive economic stakes), a US spy ship is sunk, evidently by a Kremlin-controlled submarine, in the international waters of the Barents Sea. As it happens, the killer craft is a Ukrainian vessel acting on orders from Pavl Normav, a renegade general in Kiev, who is determined to subvert the joint maneuvers, precipitate a nuclear holocaust, and make his newly independent nation a devastated world's sole superpower. Whilst hot lines hum between Moscow and Washington, the US President assigns thirtysomething Bill Lane to the case. The brainy NSA agent quickly deduces diehard Ukrainians, not Russians, are throwing high-tech monkey wrenches into the potentially volatile works. But whether Lane can stop cunningly sabotaged aircraft and warships from turning the Rio scrimmage into an Armageddon in which Kiev's maverick militarists emerge as triumphant survivors is quite another matter. Although the intrepid, globe-trotting G-man can't prevent the opposing forces from inflicting severe casualties upon one another, he stymies would-be assassins, a venal senator, faint- hearted diplomats, Ukrainian desperados, and a host of other foes, averting a doomsday outcome at the eleventh hour. Fine absorbing fare for devotees of what-if brinksmanship.
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