Following a clear, hard-edged recovery in Mongoose, R.I.P. (1987), Buckley keeps up the pace in his literate Blackford Oakes spy series. This time Buckley sinks his two lead figures into the moral quagmire of America's early involvement in Vietnam. It's 1964 and President Johnson is hopping like a wet hen being bird-dogged by Barry Goldwater, his rival in the upcoming election, and by the surreally expanding mess of the war going on across the demilitarized zone separating the two Vietnams. Will Goldwater suck in ex-President Eisenhower as his vice-presidential running mate? Blackford Oakes, partnered by manly Major Tucker Montana, a scientific genius who helped develop the A-bomb and rode in the Enola Gay to monitor the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, is sent into supposedly noncombative Laos to see what's happening and discovers the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a 400-mile road hidden by jungle along which the Soviets supply North Vietnam by way of China. How to interdict traffic on the Trail? Tucker comes up with the idea of some hidden sound devices for eavesdropping on the otherwise invisible route and pinpointing the best bomb-targets. Meanwhile, he falls for the most beautiful woman in Saigon, the "widow" Lao Duc, who is really a North Vietnamese spy working for the earliest possible end to the war. Blackford, too, gets some time off with a hop to Mexico City to woo the newly widowed Sally Partridge Morales, the great love of his life and now a millionairess. Blackie and Tucker are separated, Blackie to fuzz up the flow of Soviet war goods through the Gulf of Tonkin and Tucker to plant his sound devices. Eventually, Tucker decides that Lao Duc has the right idea about shortening the war, and this leads to his arrest by the South Vietnamese as a traitor. Buckley strives with fair effect to ring soft bells on the Martyred Buddy Theme familiar to fans of far-off wars since Beau Geste. Sensible spying, with buffoonish Lyndon Johnson for comic relief.