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NEW YORK — “Darkness Peering” were the two words on the lips of most of Gotham’s publishing types Wednesday night.

Bantam Books caught the industry by surprise earlier in the day by offering a whopping $1.2 million to author Alice Blanchard for a two-book, world rights deal, according to industry sources.

Competing publishers, agents and scouts promptly toted home copies of the manuscript to see what all the fuss was about.

“When a house makes a big bid like that, people think there really must be something to the book,” said one source. “You don’t want to miss out on good material — there’s not that much out there right now.”

Likened to “Blood Work” author Michael Connelly’s style, “Darkness Peering” is a past-present tale about a police officer who suspects his son of murder-ing a retarded girl. Years later, the policeman’s daughter — also a cop — takes up the investigation.

By Thursday, scouts all across Gotham said they had faxed off copies to their foreign publisher bosses, with interest overseas strong even before an American publisher has signed.

Opinions of the book — outside of Bantam — were varied, with some sources saying they were surprised by the “high floor” set by Bantam.

The book is also said to be making the rounds among film and TV producers.