NICHOLAS KILMER – Dirty Linen. Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, March 1999. Poisoned Pen Press, softcover, March 2001.

MICHELLE BLAKE – The 8ook of Light. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, May 2003. Berkley, paperback, May 2004.

   Both these books are by authors I’ve not read before and feature plot hooks that I can’t resist: an art historical mystery (Dirty Linen) in which a batch of J. W. M. Turner drawings turn up in a country auction; and, in The Book of Light, the discovery of an ancient document, the “Q” manuscript that was purportedly the source for much of the biblical texts of Matthew and Luke. But apart from irresistible hooks, they couldn’t be more different.

   In Kilmer’s book, Fred Taylor is an agent for Boston collector Clayton Reed charged to bid on a lot at a benefit auction. Fred has no idea what is in the lot and when it turns out to be a series of erotic drawings by the English landscape master Turner, he finds himself enmeshed in a dangerous web of murder and attempted murder that has him trying to trace the history of the contested works in an attempt to establish the provenance of the drawings and thwart other murders.

   Blake’s compelling theological thriller plays out in a constricted setting dominated by Lilly Connor, an Episcopalian priest filling in as a Boston area college religious counselor, who’s asked to validate a manuscript, which she comes to suspect may be the legendary Book of Light, a collection of the transcribed words of Jesus, rather than the “Q” document.

   Kilmer’s novel is a raunchy, humorous caper. Blake’s stylistically acute novel is a record of souls in anguish, with a centuries old secret group committed to guarding the secrets of the ancient document that places Lilly’s small frightened group in extreme peril.

   I’ll undoubtedly return to both writers, but my expectations will be higher for Blake than for Kilmer.