Do you ever wonder if we are living in the last great age of freedom? Credit card companies, merchants, utilities, insurers and the government have always collected data on citizens, but the databases weren't linked. With the explosion of the Internet, surveillance cameras, global positioning satellites and supercomputers, those days are over. John Twelve Hawks' tautly strung and disquieting page-turner, The Traveler, drops us into a dystopian near future where information technology (which he calls the Grid ) threatens personal freedom though the average citizen doesn't realize it. A shadowy group called the Tabula has focused for years on integrating all the data and assuming the role of puppet master to the masses. As Tabula plan architect General Nash says, most of us would gladly give up a little privacy in exchange for security. Sound familiar? Certain gifted individuals, called Travelers, have the ability to escape their bodies and travel to other planes; they also tend to introduce new and unsettling ideas into society, making them the Tabula's natural adversary. Historically, Travelers were protected from the Tabula by a ronin-like group called Harlequins. Two brothers, descended from a Traveler, appear on the scene, as does one of the few remaining Harlequins, and the race is on. If either brother possesses the gift and can be turned to the dark side, the Tabula could achieve their hegemony. The stakes couldn't be higher should the Tabula accomplish their goal, 1984 would collide with Brave New World in an ugly union. The Traveleris the latest major acquisition for The Da Vinci Code editor Jason Kaufman, and it offers readers the same winning combination of breakneck pacing and paranoia-inducing conspiracy theory. Twelve Hawks is a pseudonym for an author who jealously guards his privacy he uses a satellite phone so his calls can't be traced and won't pose for publicity photos. Pitting brother against brother, Tabula against Harlequin and freedom versus security this anonymous writer has concocted a brilliant, if alarming, summer read. Thane Tierney is a record executive in Los Angeles.