Combining computer-chip theft with Central American atrocities, Knebel offers a livelier thriller than the stultifying Crossing in Berlin (1981), but one with a sputtering plot and glossy-cardboard characters. Kate Warfield, the beautiful young computer whiz at Doug Perry's cash-poor Dataflo company in Princeton, has designed the ""Katwar 23""--a chip that offers total computer-security to commercial and military users (through ""an astronomical number of secret cipher keys""). But, just as Doug is about to begin marketing the chip design to potential manufacturers, he gets hints that the design has been stolen by an ex-employee; so he and new love Kate take an inconclusive sleuthing trip to Silicon Valley. Then, with the theft still possible but not proven, Doug agrees to sell the chip-design to Ossian, Ltd. for $17.5 million--only to learn that Ossian plans to manufacture the chips in Salvador-like San Lugs, where the torture-victims have included a good friend of Doug's daughter! Moral-dilemma debates ensue at Dataflo, with Doug deciding to cancel the deal; plans are made for a local firm to produce the chip instead, sharing profits with Dataflo. But then Doug gets wind of the stolen chip-design being marketed in Germany--so there's some tepid sleuthing over in Europe (Kate as Nancy Drew), followed by false charges against Doug back in the US, his speedy vindication. . . and a wondrous bloodless coup over in San Luis, with much of the credit going to Doug himself (who has promised the new regime a big manufacturing contract). Nuggets of interest for computer-fiction devotees--but the plot is a talky series of anticlimaxes, the Doug/Kate relationship is a cutesy washout, and Knebel continues to produce the worst love/sex prose (""carnal beatitude,"" ""cathedral of lust,"" ""undulating roadway"") in the business.