On the track of child killers with global reach, a dogged investigator uncovers a plot that gives new meaning to ecclesiastic militancy, in a chillingly effective debut by the pseudonymous Case. Joe Lassiter, the head of a transnational security firm, is devastated by the inexplicable murders of his sister Kathy and her young son Brandon. When the only suspect in the crime, a closemouthed Italian, escapes from a Virginia hospital's prison ward, he assigns himself to the case. Lassiter follows a winding trail that leads him around Europe to Naples (home of Umbra Domini, an ultraconservative Roman Catholic order committed to the church's old, preVatican II ways) and subsequently to a mountain village in Umbria. In this remote hamlet, he learns that a world-class geneticist named Ignazio Baresgi (since deceased) ran a clinic (now burned to the ground), which provided artificial-insemination services to a clientele that at one time included Kathy. Lassiter also learns that, before Baresi went into medicine, he was a respected theologian whose specialty was relics. Although the sinister Umbra Domini, headed by a charismatic priest named Silvio della Torre, and its legions of lay adherents on both sides of the Atlantic make several attempts to eliminate him, Lassiter persists in his inquiry. At length, he traces Dr. Baresi's only surviving patient--reclusive film star Callista Bates, who quit Hollywood cold at the height of her fame--to an island off the coast of Maine, where she lives quietly with her son, Jesse. Using Bates as a sounding board, Lassiter soon confirms his own suspicions that Baresi was using the remains of ancient holy men in ways that (thanks to a breach in confessional secrecy) sent Umbra Domini after him with a vengeance. Before the unarmed pair can act on their insights, however, they must deal with the deranged della Torre and his homicidal minions. A first-rate biotech thriller with an intriguing, if ungodly, religious twist.