In his fourth outing, Cullen's ace foreign correspondent Colin Burke (Dispatch from a Cold Country, 1996, etc.) bears witness to the world-shaking meltdown of Saudi Arabia. Having broken the news that the US plans to sell an advanced missile-defense system to the oil-rich kingdom, the Washington Tribune reporter learns that the Saudi husband of a childhood sweetheart is on trial for his life in Riyadh. Slipping into the authoritarian monarchy, he manages to file copy on the summary proceedings via satellite. Burke's dispatch puts pressure on Washington to save the condemned man (who served as an unpaid CIA informant), and his release precipitates a mass protest by Islamic extremists opposed to the royal house's corruption and dissolute life style. The fundamentalists seize power with shocking speed, arrest Burke, and announce the establishment of an Iran-like theocracy, a substantive increase in petroleum prices, and curtailed crude shipments to the West. With the domestic price of gasoline spiraling upward and lines lengthening at American service stations, the US President takes decisive, if ill-advised, action, ordering Army Rangers unconvincingly disguised as Arab soldiers to seize control of the ultrasacred mosque in Mecca from the rebels who hold it and restore a manageable Saudi princeling to the throne. Resilient Burke (who has again eluded his captors) observes the preparations for the counterattack and its subsequent failure. But chastened by his longtime love Desdemona McCoy (a CIA operative on the scene to oversee the doomed operation), he fails to alert the Trib's editors. In the wake of the inevitable disaster, the disgraced journalist retreats to the States, where he attempts to ensure that his paramour doesn't become a vengeful administration's showcase scapegoat. An absorbing blend of geopolitical intrigue, narrow escapes, religious zealotry, mob violence, armed conflict, and expedient betrayal--all while posing thought-provoking questions about press responsibilities in both open and closed societies.