With his third novel, Bob Reiss adds to the long tradition of fictionalized tyrannicides, which stretches back at least to Geoffrey Household's "Rogue Male" in 1939. The quarry in that novel was Adolf Hitler. In Reiss' "Divine Assassin" it is Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Reiss' hero is Tim Currie, a prisoner during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980 and now a programmer for a Rockville computer company. As the novel opens, Currie is picnicking on Theodore Roosevelt Island with his girlfriend. This bucolic encounter is rudely interrupted when she is gunned down by Libyan agents, who also leave behind a cryptic message hinting at a Middle Eastern war. Currie goes to the FBI, but after they fail to protect him during a subsequent assassination attempt, he decides to seek advice from John Zarek, a mercenary he first met in the dungeons of Tehran.

Zarek urges Currie to leave behind the soft world of words and enter a harder life of deeds: "People here convince themselves that words are actions," Zarek argues in his Capitol Hill town house. "Look at the headlines . . . 'President Urges' . . . 'Senate Argues' . . . 'Israelis Debate' . . . Nobody is doing anything in this town."

Currie accepts Zarek's advice and in the second half of the novel leaves Washington for training sessions in Italy where he encounters and flees FBI agents, Libyan killers and his former wife, surviving numerous perils until a grisly climax in the Libyan desert.

"Divine Assassin" is an "inverted" thriller; i.e., we already know the conclusion: Qaddafi is still alive, still healthy and still scheming. What we do not know, and what builds suspense, is how close Currie will come to assassinating Qaddafi. Reiss throws the hero into a suitable number of quagmires and produces a conclusion that, while dramatically different from other novels of this type, is still within the "inverted" tradition.

Yet "Divine Assassin" is more than a fine thriller. It is also a solid example of the Washington novel. One of Reiss' goals is to write comedy about the more pompous aspects of Washington life, to deflate the stylized rituals of power that have come to dominate the social fabric of this town.

His best scene takes place at a Dupont Circle cocktail party, which everyone feels required to attend but no one dares be the first to leave. And when Currie visits the FBI building, what captures Reiss' eye is not the way it architecturally dominates the landscape, but what exists in the FBI's shadow: "Currie passed record stores blaring rock music, cheap underwear and wig shops . . . third-rate goods for the three-quarters of Washington reporters never write about unless a congressman gets mugged."

Reiss is just as good describing foreign locales. And he is particularly good at describing the inability of American police officials to function in other countries; the FBI agent chasing Currie is at his most humane when at the mercy of Italian authorities. Tough, gritty and provocative, "Divine Assassin" establishes Bob Reiss as a rising star in the action/adventure genre."