Ex-infantryman Ruggero momentarily abandons Major Mark Isen, protagonist of his estimable Army series (Breaking Ranks, 1995, etc.), for an absorbing tale of sociopolitical intrigue set at the US Military Academy. Early in the school year, as West Point braces for a potentially shattering inquiry by White Houseminded Senator Lamar Bruckner, Major Tom Gates injures one of his student charges in the wake of an ill-advised disciplinary exercise. Because the overzealous officer (not a USMA grad) had been drinking before the incident, he could receive a career-ending letter of reprimand. Aware that her husband's actions could have unfortunate consequences, Kathleen Gates (an unsentimental Army brat who might teach Lady Macbeth a thing or two) launches a thoroughgoing damage- control program that extends from the sexual seduction of a hang- loose senior cadet named Wayne Holder through an under-the-table deal with the Academy's dean and an offer of perjured testimony to the Bruckner Commission's scandal-oriented investigators. Vying for the favor of their unscrupulous patron, however, the preppy hawkshaws invariably work at cross purposes, as do most of the randy, ambitious administrators and faculty members in their sights. At the 11th hour, the exacting duty/honor/country code drummed into the Army's officer corps during its West Point days helps principals pick their way through a host of conflicting agendas. At no small cost, following his roommate's suicide, Holder (an unlikely candidate for assuming responsibility of any sort) takes the decisive steps necessary to neutralize those who would do the institution serious injury for personal gain. A labor-of-love yarn in which the USMA (the author's alma mater) and its largely admirable traditions figure prominently in a neatly plotted conspiracy notable for a larger-than-life female villain.