Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy and the Bible in U.S. Popular Culture

(2011) Adam Blake, The Dead Sea Deception (Little Brown)


While the publishers of The Dead Sea Deception, and its later sequel The Demon Code, acknowledge that Adam Blake is "a pseudonym for an internationally bestselling novelist based in the UK," it has taken some time for his real identity to emerge: Mike Carey, an author of popular novels and comic books. (Although some readers reported "rumors" that Blake was actor and author Mark Billingham; in an interview conduced after The Dead Sea Deception appeared, the interviewer even suggests rumors that Blake is Dan Brown himself.) He revealed his own identity in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session in 2014 and again in an interview in 2016. Oddly, after a Wikipedia user added the reference to Blake's identity as Carey in 2012, in 2016 another user removed the reference entirely with the brief note "unsourced rumor."

Nonetheless, it seems fairly well established that Blake is in fact Carey. Carey wrote dozens of comics for DC, Marvel, and other outlets, and penned several novels before his biggest hit to date, The Girl With Many Gifts, which he later adapted into a film. While The Dead Sea Deception does not feature mutants or global pandemics, it does perhaps share with Carey's other fictional output an eerie sense of foreboding and apocalypticism. 

Despite the title, the Dead Sea Scrolls play virtually no role in the novel (nor, despite the tagline on the cover, do we learn that "everything we know about the death of Christ...is a lie"). The British paleographer whose murder sparks the investigation had suspicions that early Christian texts might be found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and used some code in an unspecified fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll as part of his work deciphering the (fictional) "Rotgut Codex." But The Dead Sea Deception is actually a gnostic thriller, positing (like The Judas ConspiracyThe Book of Judas, and The God Machine) that a more complete version of the Tchacos Codex Gospel of Judas survived. 

Not only does The Dead Sea Deception posit a fuller Gospel of Judas, revealing that Jesus chose Judas as his special emissary, it also posits instructions to build a secret gnostic community which has survived, in various underground hide-outs, for almost two thousand years. The "Judas People" speak a form of Aramaic, have pale skin (they literally live underground), and await a time in the not-too-distant future when they will become the religious leaders of the world. Their desire to keep themselves and their gospel hidden, as well as their mode of sending women out into the world to procreate, lead to the murders and destruction from the UK to the US to Mexico City.

Heroes: 1) Heather Kennedy, a lesbian London cop who is more honest than her colleagues (a classic trait of the noir hero); 2) Leo Tillman, a U.K. mercenary who has been hunting for his missing wife and three children, unaware they are part of the hidden "Judas People"; 3) Webster Gayle, a local sheriff in the U.S. southwest investigating a mysterious plane crash
Villians: "The Judas People," the hidden gnostic tribe who send women out to procreate ("Kelim"/Vessels) and drugged assassins out to keep their secrets ("Elohim"/Messengers), as instructed by their Gospel; Solomon Kuutma ("Michael Brand") is the ruthless leader of the Messengers
Gospel: An authentic full version of the Gospel of Judas, complete with instruction for the tribe, hidden in a medieval English translation (the Rotgut Codex) of the Gospel of John and discovered by a group of amateur code-breakers and a British paleographer.

Reviews.
A pseudonymous first book in a marginal genre received little print attention. Publisher's Weekly envisions "enthralled readers" anticipating the sequel, while two British reviews in small papers praised the novel for "stand[ing] out in a crowded genre" (Keighley [UK] News) and as "escapism at its best" (Lancashire [UK] Post).

Book review blogs have been generally positive, specifically praising it for rising above some of the by now familiar and tired tropes of the "Da Vinci Code"-style thriller (here, here, here), while others expressed despair at the outlandishness of the plot (here).  Numerous (and notably international) Goodreads readers supply mixed reviews: some appreciate the attention to detail, others find it a trite and played out formula. The fewer Amazon reviewers praise the psychological realism of the characters.

Sequel.
The following year Blake/Carey published The Demon Code, a sequel which reunited Kennedy (now a private investigator) and Tillman attempting to stop some apocalyptic event revealed in 17th-century English prophecies. Blake further reveals the inner workings of the Judas People, including divisions among them as to how to bring about their long-awaited ascendancy.

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