A Catholic priest presents the parable of the rise and fall (or is it an apotheosis?) of a charismatic statesman and holy man--an ambiguous contemporary messiah--on a poor, deeply troubled West Indian island. After taking in the orphaned Jean-Pierre Cantave from the poor hamlet of Toumalie, Father Paul Michel, a Canadian missionary to the island of Ganae, acquiesces in the boy's request to be ordained abroad as a priest himself, watches Jeannot (as Father Paul calls him) return under the banner of liberation theology, and then sees him expelled from his order and relieved of his parish duties, only to emerge as the overwhelmingly popular choice for president after the death of the brutal dictator Jean-Marie Doumergue. When Jeannot, who repeatedly invokes the example of Christ in his speeches (their cadence as well as their subjects) and in his actions, seems to be following Doumergue into tyranny--surrounding himself with a cadre of close followers, refusing to share power with the opposition, staging show trials for symbolic ``oppressors,'' and dramatizing his mandate by fomenting continual demonstrations on the government's behalf--the church fathers threaten to excommunicate him. In response, he walks a fine line between political accommodation and self-justification through the mantra of ``the poor''--leaving even his loyal mentor Father Paul doubtful about his true loyalties. So far, we could almost be reading a recent history of Haiti; but when the long-awaited military coup against Jeannot comes, he meets it with a climactically Christlike stroke that's unprecedented in Haitian politics or political fiction generally. Moore's gift (Lies of Silence, 1990, etc.) for framing volatile political and religious questions in terms of particular human experience has never been taken to such extraordinary lengths as in this brief, ambitious, deeply unsettling novel.