The lackluster title is the only below-average thing about this above-average Washington conspiracy twister: though based on a farfetched premise (well, so was Seven Days in May), it's complex to precisely the right degree, absolutely free of straining after ""style,"" and goosed along by the ironic fumbles--someone's been reading Le CarrÃ‰--of unromanticized, over-the-hill (or just dumb) spies. White House confidant Thack Forbes is the troubled protagonist--ordered by Vice-President Melville and by a CIA ""Basement"" has-been named Coombes to slip his buddy President Hamilton a lethal pill if and when a certain documented rumor is absolutely verified. The rumor? That washed-up, outgoing Pres. Hamilton intends to use an upcoming trip to China to defect (!)--a surefire international disaster. While Forbes struggles with the idea of murder, however patriotic, pathetically appealing Coombes slogs about, trying to elicit a Chinese confirmation of the rumor--an unauthorized move that mucks up the CIA computers and security men. You may think that it takes Forbes'and Coombes an awfully long time to suspect the fairly transparent villainous set-up at work here. But if you allow ex-journalist Stovall to finesse that one by, the rewards will include deadright jargonized dialogue, effortlessly convincing slices of the political milieu, and elegantly crisscrossing plot-lines that stretch and stretch and unravel at just the right moment.