Three top-flight adventure thrillers-- The Last Assassin, The Seventh Sanctuary, The Ninth Buddha--have established Easterman as the modern H. Rider Haggard. But here the pseudonymous English author finally stumbles, investing his resonant prose in a premise--an ancient cabal devoted to human sacrifice--far sillier than any Haggard ever hatched. It takes many pages for Easterman's folly to emerge, however, and his early chapters forge a bear-trap of a thriller. A double prologue dated 1968 sets the melodramatic tone: an Italian bishop and an Israeli archeologist discover the tomb of Christ, with the bishop killing the Israeli to keep it secret; meanwhile, Trinity (Dublin) freshman Patrick Callahan squires young Italian aristocrat Francesca Contarini. Cut to 1992: Patrick, retired from the CIA, is back in Dublin to heal his soul, still sick from Francesca's mysterious death 23 years before. But violent intrigue, not peace, greets him as he's stalked by men tattooed with an arcane symbol that he recognizes from a long-ago ritual slaying Soon, Patrick's current lover and two local clerics are dead, and the ex-spy has linked up with one Fr. Makonnen, himself running from a hit squad seeking papers he's lifted from one of the dead clerics. The papers hint at a global cabal--""The Brotherhood,"" guarded by ""The Dead""--and include a photo of Francesca: alive? To find out, Patrick and Makonnen go to Venice--where the bear-trap loses its spring as they tediously sift through clues and as Patrick predictably reunites with Francesca, back with a vengeance from The Dead that her Brotherhood family forced her to join. At last, the trio sets out to foil the cabal's aim: to kill Pope John-Paul II and begin a reign of religious terror based on the belief that Jesus died at his disciples' hands, as a blood sacrifice. A climax featuring John-Paul (with ""horror on his face"") only adds to the absurdity. Great setup, lousy follow-through; and the diamond-bright scenes scattered throughout make it an even sadder waste of Easterman's prodigious talent.