If Ludlum is a poor man's le CarrÃ‰, then first-novelist Fink is a pauper's Ludlum: this thin thriller about a member of a secret global fraternal organization who engineers the breakout of an American hostage during the 1980 Iranian crisis is a hive of contrived plotting, inane characters, and forced prose. The hailing sign is the gesture that any Brother of the Craft can make for help, and it's that gesture that stuns Alexander Mycroft when he sees it cast by a hostage on a videotape screened at an emergency Brotherhood meeting in Philadelphia. Never mind that here Brotherhood rituals seem more like a college spoof (""I am your friend. I am your guide. I am your Brother. I am a shepherd's son"") than the pomp of an ancient order; Mycroft's fraternal loyalty is die-hard, so he agrees to use his operative's skills--honed rescuing POWs during the Vietnam War--to retrieve the hostage. (He hates Arab terrorists anyway, since they killed his wife and son in Israel a few years back.) Trouble brews when the CIA gets wind of Mycroft's plan and, in order to safeguard negotiations with Khomeini, determines to foil it--or, barring that, to track down Mycroft and hostage, killing the former and returning the latter to the Iranians. But lucky for Mycroft, coincidence plays a heavy hand in Fink's world; his Middle East is infested with highly placed Brothers, including a top Mossad agent and even one of Khomeini's top honchos, a man with easy access to the hostages. With pals like these, no one--not the CIA, not the Iranians, not even the sexy and sadistic lady who masquerades as the hostage's sister and who turns out to be a devil from Mycroft's Vietnam past--can keep Fink's hero from fulfilling his Brotherly duties. Awesomely witless--be gone, hailing sign.