When Suffolk County medical examiner Laura Fanning completes post-mortems on two men in perfect condition, she soon learns that their perfect health traces back to a secret originating in the year 536 at an apostate Benedictine monastery isolated in the Pyrenees Mountains.
Evidence appears suggesting the men have taken a panacea, an ancient remedy for any illness or injury. Despite her scientific skepticism, Fanning is hired by mega-billionaire Clayton Stahlman, who's dying from lung disease, to seek ikhar, the panacea. Stahlman assigns Rick Hayden, supposedly an ex-SEAL, as her bodyguard, and the unlikely pair races from New York to Quintana Roo, then the Negev, the Pyrenees, and finally the Orkneys. Hayden’s intriguing back story includes a secret link to CIA agent Nelson Fife, a member of the clandestine 536 Brotherhood, an esoteric monastic order. The Brotherhood believes mankind’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden means human beings deserve a lifetime of "pain and grief and suffering and death," and thus ikhar comes from the Serpent, the devil, and so Fife’s willing to use the agency’s assets to thwart Fanning’s quest. Wilson’s (Fear City, 2014, etc.) narrative flies at jet speed, even when Hayden philosophically muses over "a vast, cool, and unsympathetic" intelligence manipulating humankind. The dialogue is seamless, natural, and eventually ratchets up the tension when Fanning develops a personal reason for finding the potion. Wilson’s complex, entertaining, smart story also includes comet-induced climate change, Gaulish Druids, German nihilists, Christianity’s Aryan offshoot, and commentary on how a panacea would influence social order. Fanning and Hayden escape Hellfire missiles, dispose of villains in a manner most gruesome, and return home to find the billionaire ready to hire them for a sequel.
An intelligent, intriguing, fast-moving blend of science fiction and thriller.