An ideological thriller in which Pearson (Cloudburst, 1993) presents Cuba -- in reality a tiny, dirt-poor nation stripped of financial aid from its former Soviet lifeline -- as a raging Cold War power whose fanatic leader is intent on punishing Moscow for having betrayed his 1959 revolution. It seems that Fidel still has a Soviet-supplied nuclear warhead stored in a plutonium pit. He also has a rebellion fomenting against him, led (per usual) by Cuban exiles returning to their homeland with CIA training. ""Things changed, societies matured, and people who were once cattle in a pen had come to see the benevolent rancher as little more than a guide to the slaughter house,"" muses an anti-Castro counterrevolutionary. Pearson's 39-year-old American president is a gung-ho hawk plotting to even the score 30 years after the US was humiliated by the Bay of Pigs fiasco. ""Why not blow the planes up completely?"" he asks top aides in the White House. ""Wouldn't you get a bigger bang by tossing a bunch of explosives in the air intake?"" Technological jargon both strengthens and slows down this often tedious tale of high-level espionage counterbalanced by street crime deriving from the machinations of devil commies 90 miles from Miami. Occasionally, Pearson adds touches of humanity to a sprawling cast of largely wooden characters. These include alcoholic Los Angeles reporter George Sullivan, who witnesses the assassinations of both a Cuban canary and a G-man, then becomes a target himself. He's rescued by virtuous federal agents, including a female sharpshooter named Frankie. Meanwhile, Castro, known outside fiction as a shrewd fellow for having survived this long, comes off as a baroque cartoon. ""We will defeat this coup d'etat,"" he says. ""The perpetrators will be captured and hanged in the plaza!"" As in war, truth becomes the first casualty of propaganda.