General, Mystery

The Scroll

Not long enough to be called anything but a short story, The Scroll is somewhat of a departure for Anne Perry. The reader is immediately introduced to Monty Danforth, a bookstore clerk hard at work unpacking boxes from a new acquisition made by his employer. At the bottom of the last box, he finds a mysterious scroll. Unrolling it, he discovers patchy writing in a language he thinks is Hebrew. He attempts to copy it, but the copies come out blank; the same thing happens when he photographs the mysterious scroll. As he tries to come to grips with the idea that the scroll is something very special, a man named Judson Garrett and a young child appear in the store, offering to buy it. Their appearance is followed by two other potential buyers, one a Prince of Church and one a scholar.

Monty seeks advice from a friend who recognizes the language as Aramaic, and dates the scroll to the time of Christ. Monty frantically attempts to contact the store owner, and eventually travels to his home, where he finds the man burned to death and the house tossed upside down. Monty eventually comes to believe the scroll is the lost Gospel of Judas Isacariot, and he suspects each of the three buyers have devious motives for wanting to acquire the scroll. He invites them all to the shop owner’s home for a private auction, where all hell breaks loose.

This cautionary tale reminded me of classic folktales in which antagonists appear in groups of three to torment or aid the protagonist. Perry causes the reader to speculate upon who each antagonist represents and why they want the scroll, while at the same time identifying with Monty as he struggles with whether he should allow the information in the scroll to be released to the world. Perry has offered up a delicious little morsel of a tale that blends philosophy, theology, and hubris, all in a neat package. Very nicely done.