MacLean's last novel, San Andreas, falsely promised a return to the crisp energies of his earlier suspensers (Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, etc). But this lackluster new effort about a wayward atom bomb ticking towards doomsday in the Aegean confirms the sad prognosis indicated in Floodgate, Partisans, and Athabasca: anemic plotting and characterization, complicated by terminal talkiness. A slight spurt of action opens the novel as Cmdr. John Talbot, of the British frigate (and spy ship) Ariadne, witnesses two nearly simultaneous tragedies: the crashing into the Aegean of an unidentified airplane, and the sinking of a luxury yacht. The Ariadne picks up several survivors From the yacht, including its owner, the immensely wealthy Greek businessman Andropulous; from the airplane--soon revealed as an American bomber and now resting on the ocean floor--it picks up only a steady ""tick. . .tick. . .tick""--which, although monotonous, expresses nearly as much as does the stilled, sloppily written dialogue that stuffs the remainder of the book. (When it becomes clear that the ticking emanates from a live atomic bomb, which the Ariadne must retrieve and tow away, at least three characters independently speak of the Ariadne's task as ""doom-laden""--as unlikely and awkward as that phrase may be.) The reason for the towing? if the bomb explodes here, near the volcanic and geographically unstable island of Santorini, an earthquake big enough to blow away all life on earth may ensue. So, with an abundance of detailed mechanical description and a paucity of suspense, the bomb is salvaged: but Andropulous, uncovered as an arch-fiend arms dealer, steals it and sails away-evidently his plan all along. But that's okay, since Talbot let him steal it; as soon as Andropolous enters remote waters, Talbot triggers the bomb via remote control: no more errant bomb, no more arch-fiend. Tired, tiresome; a tedious disappointment for MacLean's regulars as well as for anyone unlucky enough to pick this one to sample MacLean.