Unfortunately, this new thriller by veteran Cunningham (a.k.a. Howard Fast) doesn't involve Beverly Hills cop Masao Masuto, whose investigations (The Case of the Sliding Pool, etc.) have been generally crisp and artful. Instead, as one might suspect from the Ludlum-like title, Cunningham is offering the most formulaic sort of conspiracy-suspense here--complete with chases and shoot-outs, villains in high places, and ""a killing machine that makes the old Murder Incorporated look like kids' play. ""The narrator-hero is NYPD lieutenant Harry Golding, who (with prodding from fiery wife Fran) gets suspicious about a pair of recent deaths: two presidential hopefuls--Stanley Curtis of the US, Asher Alan of Israel--both die of strokes in NY restaurants, both having recently taken the same iffy medication! Were these ""natural"" deaths really murders? To find out, Harry and Fran start sleuthing, only to find fresh corpses wherever they go--while they themselves are being shot at, bugged, threatened, etc. Despite the presence of bad guys everywhere, however, Harry and Fran do eventually find two common denominators amid the mayhem: all the violence can be traced to a huge private-eye agency called Wabash Protection; and all the primary murder-victims were in some way opponents of the ruthless right-wing râ€šgime in a Salvador-like nation called Santa Marina! In fact, while dodging bullets and frame-ups, Harry ultimately uncovers ""an endless series of murders, most of them disguised as accidents, committed by a death squad which has its roots in Santa Marina and which is operated here. . .as part of an industrial-dope complex that has become very powerful and tightly interconnected with the executive branch in Washington. . ."" Even those readers unsympathetic to Reagan policies in Central America will probably find the political colorations here simplistic and shrill. The sentimental banter between Harry (Jewish) and Fran (Irish-Catholic), engaging at first, soon grows tiresome. And the hectic action, which leads up to Harry's decision to assassinate the evil conspiracy leader, is--despite the punchy, competent narration--thoroughly unconvincing. An uninspired mini-Ludlum, then, with fewer tangles, a little more charm, but no real distinction.