Ward (The King of Cards, 1993, etc.), a former TV producer-writer (Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice), explores the familiar nexus of sex, Hollywood glitz, and international drugsmuggling--and comes up with a solid action novel marred only by persistent, annoying attempts to make it more than simply that. Los Angeles DEA agent Jack Walker lives up to his reputation for brashness by jumping in to rescue the woman he's following, Charlotte Rae Wingate, from a carjacker. Former actress Charlotte Rae is the voluptuous wife of furniture, film, and drug magnate Buddy Wingate and has herself been the subject of investigation. Over the objections of his fellow agents, all seeming to be soap-operatically volatile and self-absorbed, Walker goes undercover, capitalizing on his rescue of Charlotte to befriend the Wingates while posing as an out-of-work bodyguard. A couple of well-done action scenes give him a chance to display his credentials, and he's eventually brought in on the big score--a deal that turns out to involve the top Colombian kingpin, a man who has a personal grudge against Walker. Meanwhile, the agent finds himself developing a strong personal dislike for Wingate and exactly the opposite feeling for Charlotte Rae; his fellow agents are all being followed by mysterious cars; everyone appears to have a hidden agenda; and elaborate betrayals and double-crosses become the order of the day, with everything coming to a head in a high-tech underground border tunnel and in an extremely well-imagined torture sequence. When Ward sticks to his strengths--action, humor, and terse wise-guy dialogue--he's riveting. But his attempts to find subtle nuances and deeper meanings in what are essentially stock characters and situations only serve to break the spell.