cover image The Overseer

The Overseer

Jonathan Rabb / Author Crown Publishing Group (NY) $24 (416p)

A U.S. agent and a Columbia University professor race to find a 16th-century manuscript in this intriguing debut thriller. Rabb imagines a Swiss monk called Eisenreich, a contemporary of Machiavelli's, who wrote a long-suppressed book called On Supremacy, an outline for world conquest that goes far beyond the ruminations of The Prince. When a group of conservative ideologues decides to put a modern version of the plan into action, the task of stopping them falls to undercover agent Sarah Trent (who worked for several members of the right-wing committee's inner sanctum during an earlier phase of her espionage career) and Xander Jaspers, a brilliant young academic who eventually unravels the intricacies of the plan. The cabal is led by the mysterious ""overseer"" of the title; his minions include a Limbaugh-like demagogue, a brainwashing ""educator"" in charge of producing footsoldiers to carry out the plan and a prominent conservative financier. Trent and Jaspers are a quirky, entertaining couple, and their hunt for the historical prize incorporates many tightly written scenes (although the scenes in which Trent and Jaspers are captured and recaptured tend to blur together). The satisfying climax reveals the surprising identity of the overseer; meanwhile, there's plenty of intellectual meat in Rabb's description of the origins of the manuscript and the implications of the plan. Using an innovative conceit that combines imaginative brainwork and stirring action scenes, Rabb has given us a thriller worth remembering. Major ad/promo; foreign rights sold in Italy, Germany and Holland; Random House audio. (June)