A convincing and muscular thriller that needs every sinew to bear its often weighty prose. The murder of an English businessman in one of Moscow's hard- currency hotels draws agent Peter Ashton (Hostile Intent, 1993) yet again into a web of le CarrÇesque intrigue. PostCold War Moscow is awash with nogoodniks out to make a buck, among them some rogue KGB operatives working in cahoots with Mafiozniki, whom Ashton manages to run afoul of after uncovering the possibility of deeper significance to the Englishman's death. He ferrets out Elena Adrianova, a KGB plant working as a secretary in the British embassy, and tries to coerce information from her by promising her continued employment. Adrianova, whose modest pound-sterling salary is a fortune in rubles, reluctantly furnishes Ashton with some information, holding back the real goods until she is given a more solid guarantee of safety for herself and her family. Naturally, the higher-ups at the embassy don't fancy keeping a spy in their employ, so they cut the cord with Adrianova, who, deprived of protection, gets a severe going-over by some local toughs. Back in England, Ashton is busy trying to fit together the pieces of this puzzle, which might involve the murdered businessman in a scheme to siphon arms and other war material to Serbian irregulars in the former Yugoslavia. He's not too busy, however, to put the moves on his foxy assistant, Harriet Egan, in a curious, tacked-on romantic subplot. Ashton is forced to do an immense amount of legwork to lay bare the ties binding the Russkies, some shifty Brits, and an American oil tycoon to this arms-for-cash plot. Egleton nicely depicts the bureaucratic minefield and sea of red herrings confronting his hero, but he often strands readers in passages containing enough acronyms and jargon to require a glossary.