A second novel that’s several cuts above the average thriller, largely because it keeps to a human level and oils its wheels with immensely amusing non sequiturs. Once again, Mills (Rising Phoenix,1997) focuses on a quasi-religious group as a basis for the story’s moral ambiguities. This time, it’s the Church of the Evolution, whose 11 million clean-cut members parallel Scientology’s in paying heavy dues to rise through stages and achieve jealously guarded top status as “clears.” The group in this case is led not by L. Ron Hubbard but by the much more brilliant and human 80-year-old Albert Kneiss. Like Scientology, the Church has its so-called enemies in Germany, but here this is only a publicity ploy to attract Americans devoted to religious freedom. Kneiss, however, the messenger of God who returns to Earth every 2,000 years, is dying—or rather ascending to God—and a replacement leader is needed. This turns out to be Kneiss’s long-hidden granddaughter Jennifer Davis, whose mother is dead but who has been adopted by secret Church members Eric and Patricia Davis. All along, the Church’s business and membership sides have been run by Sara Renslier, Mills’s charismatic villain, who now has Jennifer kidnaped and her “parents” killed before her eyes. Investigating is Mark Beamon, a loose cannon FBI agent who’s been given a post in Flagstaff to run. Overweight, overdrinking Beamon is no beauty but has a very heady IQ and the highest success rate in the Bureau for solving kidnapings. Now, though, he finds himself up against an organization with fantastic powers, with members (like the Mormons) everywhere—in Congress, the Bureau, the police. Soon, his credit cards are turned to zilch, his every move dogged, a painful rumor is spread that he’s a child molester, and news stories appear about his drinking. Even the Bureau’s ready to crush him. Mills shapes his stereotypes with human clay, and excels at one-liners that quickly draw a reader into his spirited storytelling.