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Brown's fourth and most exciting techno-thriller has a new focus: the drug war, not the Cold War. At some point in the near future, the narcotics cartel has hired the Cuchillos (``Blades''), renegade Cubans flying jet fighters, to protect ever-larger shipments. Enter the Hammerheads, a new paramilitary border security force using the latest surveillance techniques and a multipurpose aircraft. In the aftermath of Iran- contra , Brown's Hammerheads emerge as a classic instrument of limited warfare, designed to employ maximum necessary force within strict legal and procedural limits. Brown recycles characters from Flight of the Old Dog and Day of the Cheetah , but gives his readers fresh faces as well, particularly Coast Guard admiral Ian Hardcastle. This smooth blend of plot, action and gadgetry supports the debatable argument that drug smuggling can be checked by military methods. But forget ideologies-- Hammerheads is a reader's delight from first page to last, a model of the genre. (Aug.)

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