Though finally separated from Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, hard-to-handle agent Peter Ashton (Death Throes, 1995, etc.) is now recalled to duty by his erstwhile masters to investigate a seemingly simple case that soon turns complicated. When a British Army captain who was being vetted for a computer post with SIS goes missing, his would-be employer assigns Ashton to make discreet inquiries. Any hopes of a quiet probe are immediately dashed by the bizarre murder of a retired major known to have had a youthful homosexual fling at a Swiss ski resort with the AWOL officer. Following background checks on the presumptive principals, Ashton determines that the ultimate answers to his questions lie in Hong Kong, where the military men in question were stationed together during the Vietnam War. Once in the Crown Colony (a restive venue on the eve of its return to mainland China), the boat-rocking operative turns over one rock too many and is nearly gunned down in a Triad ambush that takes the life of an Aussie colleague. On the evidence of a crooked inquest that hushed up the suspicious death of a young American woman more than two decades earlier, however, Ashton discovers a CIA link that puts him on a twisty trail to the US. The body count ratchets up a half dozen more notches before the relentless sleuth can get to the bottom of a long-lived plot hatched by an unreconstructed cold warrior who, despite the collapse of the Socialist Bloc, remains hell-bent on equipping any breakaway regime that will take arms against the hated Russians. Another of Egleton's complex but solid espionage procedurals. Here, the mysteries are revealed with edgy ambiance (courtesy of the professional paranoia induced by downsizing democracies) in much the same way as one peels away an onion's layers to reach the pearl at the center.