ANTHONY HYDE'S second thriller, China Lake (Viking, 343 pages, $27.99 cloth), has two points of view. Some 30 years earlier, Jack Tannis, a US Navy intelligence officer now retired, treated an accusation of espionage against the British rocket scientist David Harper in such a way that, although Harper had to give up his career, he was not charged. China Lake ties up the loose ends of that contretemps while solving an old mystery that touched both Tannis and Harper even though neither knew about it at the time. By the end of the book, each thinks he knows everything, but neither knows as much as the reader, whom Hyde has made privy to the ruminations of both men.
The double plot is well constructed, but the book is not actually thrilling. Hyde has tried to extend China Lake beyond genre fiction by rounding out his characters, but parallel soul-searching fails to bring either Tannis or Harper to life; Hyde's third-person narration keeps the reader too distant from them to care about their psyches, however fully revealed. Anyone more interested in action than rocketry will skip Hyde's well-documented lessons. And the moral questions about the history of the space race would have more impact if they weren't muffled by soliloquizing.
In spite of its leisurely pace, China Lake is a satisfying read. It may be worth remembering that even P. D. James needed several tries before managing to build complex fiction around a formula plot.