Poyer (The Passage, 1995, etc.) once again juggles a mix of storylines with varying degrees of success as his introspective Naval officer, Dan Lenson, battles a succession of personal and professional demons. The Reagan era’s paranoia regarding terrorism and the so-called Evil Empire is in full bloom when Lenson is assigned to shore duty in Washington. After years at sea, he plans to relax, do some postgraduate work, and rekindle his relationship with his young daughter. But if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, as Lenson soon discovers when he learns he’s to be part of a new team working—under extreme pressure—on the troubled Tomahawk cruise-missile development program. At first, Lenson immerses himself in the project. But it all changes for him once he falls in love with Kerry Donavan, a member of the peace activist group Plowshares. Under her influence, he begins to question his lifelong faith in a strong nuclear defense, and also to confront his alcoholism. But then in a shocking turn of events Kerry is murdered, presumably by gang members who may or may not have been hired by Chinese spies trying to convince Lenson to sell them classified documents. His life in a tailspin, he’s pushed to the limits of his conscience, courage, and sense of duty—though unfortunately he’s surrounded along the way by Poyer’s caricatured and clichÇ-spouting peace activists, selfish politicians, and voracious media types. Nevertheless, guilty of said boilerplate or not, Poyer finds his sea legs quickly enough when describing the action and intricacies of life on military bases, missile test ranges, and aboard ship. Poyer deserves credit for examining serious moral issues within the narrow confines of a military thriller. On balance, though, his hero’s fifth adventure is a disappointing jumble of stock characters, acronym-laden jargon, soul-searching platitudes, and convoluted plot twists.