Robert Rice, . . Forge, $25.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0360-8

X-Files fans may experience a strong sense of déjà vu reading this meandering mystery from Rice, author of two suspense thrillers (The Last Pendragon; Agent of Judgment), with its focus on a sinister, if nonsupernatural, conspiracy. Agents Mulder and Scully have been reborn, or at least reconstituted, in the figures of Gillian Loomis and Max Dombrowski, postal workers extraordinaire. The story begins in 1918 with a hanging. So far, so good. Jump ahead to the present. The murders of a postal worker and a customer in rural Madison County, Mont., point to three mysterious letters written in 1918 that never made it to their destination. Enter Loomis and Dombrowski, who gradually awaken to the existence of a far-reaching conspiracy lurking behind the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. An unseen villain with enormous resources will stop at nothing, including murder, to secure the three letters. Much of the story is set in Montana, the author's home state, whose bucolic landscape serves largely to reinforce the novel's many longeurs. A subplot involving a department head trying to get Loomis fired doesn't generate much excitement either. Only when the scene shifts to Philadelphia does the pace pick up. The truth may be out there, but it takes a long time arriving. (July 2)

Forecast:Fans of Chris Carter's cult TV show, the obvious target audience, may take up the slack left by crime buffs who prefer faster action.