On the verge of WW III again--in a disjointed but lively scenario that jumps around from Washington to Moscow to the Mideast, with a reasonable degree of futuristic, crisis-by-crisis believability. It's the late 1980s, and the USSR has a new leader: warmongering, unstable Vitaly Boyarkin, who takes power in a murderous coup. Meanwhile, there's another peace-threatening development: Pakistan, now with a fully developed nuclear capability, has decided to sell nuclear weapons to Libya and Syria. So it's up to America to somehow avert the nuclear world-war that's looming (according to the CIA's computer-program RUBICON). First the US tries to help Israel intercept that shipment of nuclear arms from Pakistan. . .unsuccessfully. Then, with a conflagration definitely heating up in the Golan Heights, the President and the CIA concentrate on their last resort: ""RUBICON ONE""--a plan to give secret help to the anti-Boyarkin forces (the dÃ‰tente-minded leaders, the GRU) in Russia. Will the anti-Boyarkin conspirators manage to bring off their coup before Moscow pushes Syria and Israel--already engaged in all-out conventional warfare--into all-out nuclear battle? That's the modicum of suspense here. And Jones' quasi-hero is ex-CIA agent David Thorne, a USSR/nuclear specialist who carries the crucial information back and forth between Washington and a GRU contact (in N.Y., Israel, and KGB-shadowed Moscow). Unfortunately, however, first-novelist Jones never gives Thorne enough character--interest-or even enough action--for him to become the center of this unfocused thriller; Thorne's romance with CIA agent Joscelyn and his reluctance to carry out RUBICON ONE's final phase (betraying the GRU) are both inadequately developed. So this remains sketchily peopled, techno-diplomatic suspense with definite but limited appeal: a sturdy, fairly imaginative diversion that features dollops of Mideast warfare, KGB torture, Washington policy-making, and hotline negotiation.