Anatomy of a coup--a late-1960s coup in the newly independent Congo, where western diplomats are either confused, cowardly, oblivious, or misguided. As the reader knows from the start, paratrooper commander Col. N'Sika (with help from a tribally connected, Belgian ex-mercenary named de Vaux) ruthlessly plots the overthrow of the Congo's pro-west President: a rebel uprising is half-engineered, half-faked; the President is seen to be too weak to respond to the rebels (he's actually under N'Sika's control all along); and N'Sika's paratroopers take over, ostensibly to fill this vacuum of leadership. For foreign diplomats and intelligence types, however, the actual nature of the coup is thoroughly mystifying. Says the US ambassador: ""You can't tell me whether it's a coup, a revolution, or a street brawl. You don't know where the guns come from or what they're doing with them. . . ."" The Americans suspect that the Soviets and/or Cubans are behind the rebels . . . while the USSR ambassador is serenely bewildered . . . while the lonely British ambassador dithers into adultery. And so Tyler's more-or-less-central focus comes to rest on weary CIA officer Andy Reddish, the one foreigner who begins to figure out what really has been going on--especially when he tries to save the life of fugitive Pierre Masakita: a supposed instigator of the fake rebel uprising. ""A Marxist riddle in 130 pounds of pure Cartesian ectoplasm,"" Masakita is an ex-radical who joined the fallen President's cabinet--and Reddish comes to believe that this presumed enemy of US interests is the country's best hope, that saving Masakita can perhaps make up for past mistakes: ""We've helped to destroy their past. Now we're destroying our own too, maybe the future as well."" But, despite Reddish's efforts (a journey into the interior, where Masakita is hiding), N'Sika is a totally self-sufficient tyrant--""He had devastated the social fabric,"" both colonial and tribal--and all his enemies, including the betrayed de Vaux, will die. Tyler (The Man Who Lost the War, The Ants of God) has made little attempt to turn this political/historical material into personally involving drama: Reddish, despite a quasi-romance with a Frenchwoman, is a faceless hero undergoing a formula transformation; there's minimal action or suspense. But, if this is essentially a series of conversational set-pieces--on the realities of African nationhood, on Western and USSR neo-imperialism, etc.--those conversations are unusually convincing, with authentically shaded backgrounds (Tyler is a Foreign Service veteran); and readers with serious interest in the textures of Third World diplomacy will be amply rewarded by the dense, slow interplay-of-issues here.