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The author of The Crimson Petal and the White sends up the publishing industry in this stillborn satire. Visiting an Iraqi museum in the present-day, Aramaic scholar Theo Grieppenkerl discovers nine preserved parchment scrolls. After smuggling the documents home, he discerns that he has discovered a 2,000-year-old gospel composed by an associate of Jesus named Malchus that throws into doubt the New Testament's narrative of Jesus' last days and final words. Theo approaches (and is rejected by) every commercial publisher in America, eventually taking a $250,000 advance from an academic house called Elysium and undergoing the standard indignities of book promotion: reviews from ignorant readers on Amazon, humiliating interviews by bland media personalities and, of course, the eager attention of disturbed readers. The novel takes a dark turn after allowing its feckless protagonist to temporarily hobnob with high-flying literary types, but the scenes featuring Theo in danger are as unlikely as the humorous chapters are strained. The end product is less than the sum of its could-be interesting parts. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.