How does this sound for a scenario: In a French seacoast town, a man with a secret is murdered and mutilated. Meanwhile, in the holy city of Jerusalem, an American writer receives a blindingly realistic vision of a scene 2,000 years old. The two events are not unrelated, and the vision launches our protagonist on a quest fraught with violence, conspiracy, suppressed documents, and the Vatican, eventually uncovering the shocking truth that Jesus and Mary Magadalene were married!
The Expected One, a novel by Kathleen McGowan which made its appearance on July 25, is hardly the first DaVinci Code wannabe. Religious thrillers are hot, and Mary Magdalene is enjoying a cult revival. But McGowan has raised the stakes by a bizarre stretch of author identification, claiming that she herself is a descendant of the Magdalene, and the plot of her novel is essentially her own story (with a few murders added for art's sake). She experienced the vision described in Chapter 1 back in 1997 (pre-DaVinci, mind) and was inspired to tell the tale that she finally self-published in 2005.
Though sales were modest, she soon acquired an agent, Larry Kirshbaum, who negotiated a seven-figure advance with Touchstone Books (a Simon & Schuster imprint). Both Kirshbaum and Touchstone editor-in-chief Trish Todd, presumably with straight faces, profess faith in the author's claims. Her agent finds McGowan "entirely credible" and "totally rational," insisting that he believes her "absolutely"-thus establishing credibility via adverbs instead of evidence. USA Today joined the fun, with a feature article coyly titled, "Is This Woman the Living 'Code'?"
Trish Todd insists that the back story is secondary: "We're marketing this fabulous novel." Nevertheless, when the promotional blitz begins Aug. 3, be prepared for morning-show hosts respectfully asking the author about her ancestors and wondering about the response of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church, with centuries of experience in Vatican-baiting, would be wise not to respond. Unless she's serious (always a possibility), Hollywood-bred McGowan simply knows how to market fantasy with fantasy. Her novel follows hard upon one of this summer's bestsellers (The Bad Twin), which was written by a fictional character: the missing-and-presumed-dead Gary Troup of the TV series Lost. The Expected One is a similar product of savvy promotion: Make it up and tie it in. All's fair in publicity, except for the name of Christ being blasphemed.