A NOVEL ABOUT AN OBSCURE, fantastically talented golfer has been rescued from near obscurity by Miramax Films and Doubleday.

J. Michael Vernon’s “The Greatest Player Who Never Lived: A Golf Story” was published by a small Michigan publishing house, Sleeping Bear Press, in March 2000. Sleeping Bear publishes mainly golf titles and books of regional interest.

But Shawn Coyne, a former editor at Doubleday, happens to be a friend of Sleeping Bear publisher Brian Lewis. Both are golf fanatics. Coyne reprinted the book at Doubleday — well before “Legend of Bagger Vance” hit theaters, and Miramax has just put it under option.

The book’s Southern setting and many competitive golf scenes notwithstanding, the story promises more intrigue, and fewer platitudes, than “Bagger Vance.” It tells of a summer law clerk at an Atlanta firm who uncovers evidence of the greatest golfer ever, who is on the verge of gaining national attention and is wrongfully accused of murder.

The book “is one part sports novel and two parts suspense thriller” said Miramax co-prexy Meryl Poster.

Miramax production director Rick Schwartz brought the project to Miramax. He and acquisitions director Andrew Stengel will oversee development of the novel, which was repped by AMG.

AGENTS HAVE ALREADY BEGUN to prepare for the frenzied foreign rights market unfolding later this month at the London Book Fair. The last table has been booked at the international rights center on the mezzanine level of London’s Olympia Hall — ground zero for the fair’s big deals. And a flurry of pre-fair deals are nearing closure in New York — deals that most agents hope, will serve as springboards for foreign sales in London.

On Tuesday, several houses were still tendering bids, the highest of which was north of $350,000, for “Everything is Illuminated,” a first novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. The novel, told in alternate voices, follows an American man’s voyage to Ukraine. In a testament to the power of Foer’s agent, Watkins Loomis’ Nicole Aragi, the novel was shopped a year ago by agent Henriette Rostrup, who’s since left the business, but there were no takers.

The Wylie Agency just sold Scribner another costly first novel, “A Child’s Book of True Crime,” by Australian writer Chloe Hooper. Wylie originally asked for $750,000 but settled for $300,000 for this multilayered story, in which a school teacher is involved with the father one of her best students, whose mother has written a true crime book about the murder of a young adulteress. The novel within the novel is narrated by animals.

JCA Lit Agency’s Peter Steinberg is hoping for simultaneous German and American deals for Hans Thiel’s “A Pistol at His Chest,” the memoir of a German who opposed the Nazis but was drafted into the German army in WW II. The manuscript was recently discovered in an attic. UTA will be shopping it for film.

IS HARRY TURTLEDOVE the next Philip K. Dick?

Dick fans may cry foul, but in Turtledove, Hollywood has found a creator of bizarre, alternate universes, and unlike Dick, Turtledove is still alive, and turning out four books a year.

Dick, the pulp king turned mystic guru of alternative sci-fi, has long been a subject of keen interest in Hollywood, having furnished the industry with the literary grist for such pics as “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” and “Minority Report.”

Dick’s agent, Russel Galen of the Scovil Chichak Galen Lit Agency, also reps Turtledove, in concert with APA’s Steven Fisher, who last week sold two of his novellas to Landscape Entertainment.

“Like Dick, he gives you this world that looks similar on the surface, but there are subtle differences that are very disturbing,” says Galen. And like Dick, he adds, “Harry is read widely by people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a sci-fi novel.”

In the next few weeks, Fisher will submit two more Turtledove novels — “Aftershocks” and “Through the Darkness” — to producers.

In the meantime, his readership is growing, and the novel “Breakthroughs” just hit the New York Times bestseller list. “It’s a phenomenon of the last six or eight months,” says Galen. “Sometimes with an author, there’s no splashy overnight success but each book does 20% better than the one before. Suddenly, you look around, and almost stealthily, the books have caught on.”

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