Once the thinking man's Robert Ludlum, Morrell (First Blood, Fireflies, etc.) flashes far more brawn than brain in this fast-paced but downright silly thriller about mind-manipulated super-bodyguards. So overblown is Morrell's prose here, so blustery is his plotting, that you expect Ludlum's superspy Jason Bourne to pop up on any page. But here the heroics are performed by the tag-team of Savage, an American, and Akira, a Japanese, each an ""executive protector,"" practitioner of ""the fifth profession,"" heir--as Morrell spells out in a pompous prologue--to the samurai of old. As the story opens, Savage is hired by a roman Ã clef-ed Grace Kelly to free her sister Rachel from the mansion-fortress of Rachel's sadistic, billionaire husband. A long breakout sequence, overlaid with high-tech security detail, ensues; dashing to freedom, Savage sees Akira chasing him. But how can this be? Six months ago (as a lengthy flashback reveals), Savage watched in horror in an isolated Pennsylvania hotel as unknown assailants beat Akira to near-death, decapitated him, and cut in half the Japanese honcho they'd both been hired to protect. Worse, Savage now learns that Akira had seen Savage decapitated in the same attack. Moreover, as the two join forces and fly to America with Rachel to sort out their bizarre memories, they learn in growing terror that the hotel doesn't exist, nor the hospital where Savage convalesced, nor even Savage's fondly remembered mom and dad; and that their skulls show signs of brain surgery--and false memory implantation. Why? The solution takes them and Rachel--now sharing Savage's bed--to Japan and up against a Japanese ultranationalist, a CIA splinter group, and a plot so dizzying and a body count so high that the final pages spin by in a crimson whirl. Preposterous and heavy-handed, and derivative of authors from Ludlum and Van Lustbader and Trevanian to Morrell himself. Still, a crude but powerful narrative flow and Morrell's popular reputation are bound to pull in many readers.