First-novelist Hougan seems unsure whether she wants this debut to be a darkly convoluted CIA-thriller or a breezy romance with psychological pretensions; the result, though flecked with talent, is an uneasy hybrid that's unsatisfying in all departments. Young-ish Claire Brooks, suddenly dumped by wimpy husband Jeff in early 1980, takes off on an impromptu vacation to drown her sorrow and shock--winding up in Amsterdam, where she strikes up a boozy, one-night-stand acquaintanceship with divorced journalist John Stenner. Meanwhile, however, veteran diplomat Alan Dawson, secretly working for ex-CIA chief ""Sisyphus"" (leader of an independent spy-operation), is planning to use newsman Stenner as a pawn in a complex scheme to a) prevent the assassination of the exiled Shah by a Trilateral Commission-like ""entity""; and b) blackmail a French spy into turning over evidence of a KGB mole in the CIA. Even worse, just after slipping Stenner a tape containing all the hot secrets involved, Dawson is murdered on the street--by overeager CIA types. So Stenner and Claire will spend most of the novel's remainder fleeing from the CIA (who want the tape), from Sisyphus' agents (ditto), or from the Amsterdam cops--who consider Stenner a top suspect/witness in Dawson's murder. In between derringdoings (Claire disguises herself as a punk-rock weirdo at one point), they nonetheless find time for cute repartee, great room-service food, and intense sex. And finally, after getting the tape into the right hands and surviving yet another CIA-monster attack (this one gratuitously sexual), Stenner and Claire head off, cracking wise, into the sunset. . . even though hubby Jeff reappears, contritely, to try to reclaim his wife. Hougan provides a few chunks of bright dialogue here; a few of the chase sequences are lively or charming. But the busy spy-material (conspiracies, moles, assassination plans) seems half-heartedly borrowed from a shelf-load of recent thrillers--with clumsily dense exposition and far too much of the crucial action taking place offstage. Claire's inner stewing is hackneyed, too, weighing down the love story with pseudo-seriousness. So this uneven, derivative first novel is unlikely to please thriller buffs (who'll find Claire extraneous) or romantic-suspense lovers--who'll find the plot a headache-inducing quagmire.