Briton Ken Follett, who has given us gripping tales about Nazi Germany (Eye of the Needle) and war-torn Afghanistan (Lie Down with Lions), takes on what would appear at first to be a more bucolic terrain: a California hippie commune that has somehow survived, and flourished, into the '90s. But this ground turns out to be dangerously shaky.
The group's charismatic co-leader, an ex-scammer turned natural-foods guru who calls himself Priest, helps cook up a manic scheme when the group's vineyard is threatened by a new power dam. His plan: Cause earthquakes unless construction is stopped. After a radio talk show host blabs the plot, FBI agent Judy Maddox is assigned to the case. The fun here is how Priest and gang learn to cause major tremors, and how they carry out their threat. Add Follett's peerless pacing and character development, and Hammer will nail readers to their seats. (Crown, $25.95)