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A 20-day electrical blackout in California results in 2,000 deaths and nationwide demand for a resolution to the energy crisis in this uneven near-future thriller from Washington, D.C., consultant Schechter, his second novel after Point of Entry. The Russians are secretly attempting to take over Latin America's natural gas fields, and at the same time are negotiating a gas pipeline to be built across the Bering Strait to Alaska. The point of these machinations? A complete stranglehold on America's energy resources. Numerous exhaustively drawn characters are part of the complicated proceedings, including Tony Ruiz, the U.S. president's "special advisor for domestic affairs," and assorted bad-guy Russian officials. Despite the ripped from the headlines premise, each time interest begins to build, clunky writing ("His bloodshot eyes spat fury") brings the reader crashing back to reality. A confusing ending points to a return for Tony Ruiz in a sequel. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.