A thriller based on a fundamental tenet of Sun Tzu's Art of War: Wars are won not on the battlefield, but in the minds of men. After trying to disentangle the minds here, we'll take the action, please. Assistant Secretary of State Desaix Clark (hero of Maximum Vigilance, 1992) is sent to Beijing by his friend and boss, Secretary of State Jim Moffat, to avert a Chinese/Japanese invasion of Taiwan. His initial meeting with Prime Minister Lee Ann Wu is rife with hidden meanings underlying the chatter about food and culture; Desaix, also a psychiatrist, is happy to engage in the minister's mind games. When Ann reveals a possibly apocryphal conflict with her defense minister, General Y.K. Chang, Desaix is torn between negotiating with Chang, who periodically detains him in torture chambers, or with Ann, who proves to be mentally unstable. His uncertainty extends to all the top officials he meets from China, Japan, and Taiwan, any of whom may be vying for pan-Asian control. He and his entourage, which includes CIA Beijing Station Chief Phoebe Hill, race via underground tunnel, rail, and ship to Shanghai, where an international delegate will attempt to reach a resolution before war erupts. Desaix gradually uncovers the most shocking secret of all regarding bureaucratic rivalry between the US State Department and the CIA. Realizing that he is being used as a pawn between Ann and Chang, Desaix is now unable to trust even his old friend Jim. The narrative embodies Sun Tzu's state of formlessness, in which the warrior follows his adversary with a plan that has no constant shape, observing and waiting until he has the opportunity to strike. Unfortunately, the complex deceptions and lack of structure create a difficult reading experience. The mental gymnastics Desaix employs to get himself out of dangerous situations are lost on baffled readers. Pieczenik uses Chinese philosophy to weave a web so intricate that it's opaque and abstruse.