Complex, deftly structured quasi-fantasy, established British fantasist Joyce's US debut. High-school teacher Tom Webster, following the death of his wife, Katie, in a grotesque accident, and some unpleasant incidents at school, resigns and travels to Jerusalem in search of Sharon, his oldest and best friend from college. But when Tom arrives, Sharon's away, and so he stays in a seedy hotel--among whose residents is wise, frail old David Feldberg. The two strike up a friendship, and David, dying, bequeaths Tom a Dead Sea scroll. Tom also sees, or hallucinates, a sinister old woman who writes cryptic messages in unlikely places. At last Tom finds Sharon, but he's having horrid dreams, hearing voices, and growing increasingly unstable. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we learn about his relationship with Katie and his temptation by nubile young schoolgirls. Sharon finds an Arab translator for Tom's scroll: Apparently written by Mary Magdalene, it tells how the followers of Jesus planned to have Jesus become the Messiah and survive crucifixion. But they were betrayed, not only by Judas but by the apostle Paul, who subsequently hijacked the church and radically altered its direction and development. The figure Tom keeps seeing is--Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus! As Tom's marriage and career unravel in the past, he struggles to retain his sanity in the present. A sharp, bleak novel of psychological disintegration combined with intriguing speculations on the origins of Christianity--but possibly deflating for readers expecting a fantasy, which this, mostly, isn't.