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.