THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.
Thomas F. Monteleone.
` 420 pages. $21.95.
Whatever the end of the second millennium bodes for mankind, one new development is certain: the publication of scads of new books about Armageddon, the arrival of the anti-Christ, and other Biblical prophecies. Baltimore author Thomas F. Monteleone ("The Fifth Discipline") has an early entry in the millennium sweepstakes. "The Blood of the Lamb" is a lumbering, ditzy, comic book of a novel, although it's sure to please those who like their conspiracy-plot thrillers laced with a generous -- of the supernatural.
It's 1998, and handsome young Father Peter Carenza is the most popular priest in Brooklyn, thanks to his wonderfully persuasive voice, which he likes to imbue with "a semi-hypnotic suggestion" that everything is going to be fine.
One evening, on the way back home from a parish basketball game, Peter is waylaid by a vicious crack addict, who steals his wallet and then tries to kill him. Unexpectedly, lightning bolts shoot out of the terrified priest's hands. The next thing Peter knows, his assailant is dead, and we readers are hooked on the grisly satisfaction of seeing the mugger of our worst nightmares reduced to fallout.
Standard thriller-type events ensue. Peter's strange new powers are touted by a predictably gorgeous TV anchorwoman, who wants to be more than just friends with her hot, newsworthy find ("Several times she brushed close to him and he could feel the fullness of hip and breast unique to the female body"). And, of course, Peter is stalked by the requisite cold-blooded international assassin -- a ruthless Vatican secret agent who loves his work.
It turns out that Peter is no ordinary man; he is the product of a top-secret Vatican experiment started back in 1967. Our charismatic hero is none other than a clone from the blood on the Shroud of Turin, the direct genetic descendant of a person's image (perhaps that of Christ himself) that is impressed on that revered fabric.
This experiment is the brainchild of three high-ranking church officials (including a Rome abbess who is -- what else? -- movie-star gorgeous despite her advanced age). "The Blood of the Lamb" cuts stolidly back and forth between the schemes of this comically inept trio, the ruminations of their hired torpedo Targeno, and the adventures of Father Peter and his growing list of enemies -- i.e., rival mega-evangelists.
Peter goes on a road tour, like a rock star, and countless multitudes flock to hear him preach. Readers must perform a sizable leap of faith here, because we're never told exactly what this religious superstar has to say to his rapt fans.
Instead, Mr. Monteleone fills in the blanks with hot air and mixed metaphors: "[Father Peter] was like a satellite dish, an earth station, gathering a signal and refocusing it. It was the perfect symbiosis. He fed their needs, their dreams; they gave energy back to him in a form which he could use and re-process and re-emit. It was like a psychic nitrogen cycle -- an unbreakable food chain for the soul." Despite these rhetorical flights, Peter comes across as being little more than a good-looking lunk -- albeit a lunk who can raise the dead.
Peter accepts an invitation to speak at a televised spiritual summit conference that includes the pope, as well as crooked television evangelist Freemason Cooper of the Church of the Holy Satellite Tabernacle. Reverend Cooper has an unpleasant surprise in store for Peter. Those who stay tuned in long enough to catch the predictable denouement may be interested to note that a sequel is indicated. Others may find the present installment more than enough.
Ms. Wynn is a writer living in Somerville, Mass.