Jack Cady, . . St. Martin's, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-312-28079-6

The Off Season and Street, Cady's last two novels, were wry fables on life in contemporary America, slyly disguised as dark fantasy fiction. This diffusely plotted novel mines the same vein of magic realism that laced those tales, but it doesn't quite achieve their fusion of quirky characterization, macabre mystery and cultural critique. Set on a branch off Puget Sound, it follows yet another Cadyesque crew of gregarious locals as they come to grips with supernatural phenomena spawned by changes in their social environment. Hood Canal has always been a sleepy backwater until Sugar Bear Smith, a moody blacksmith, dunks the corpse and car of a suspected child molester in the local waterway, rousing a water fury with a suddenly voracious appetite for other vehicles and their drivers. Thereafter, the town is besieged by an assortment of hustlers, con artists and well-heeled entrepreneurs who smell exploitable business prospects in its atmosphere. Cady implies that the ensuing weird incidents are all portents of the decline of civilization and its values, but he never finds a persuasive way to convey this subtly, and finally appoints a bartender to play oracle and spell things out bluntly late in the story. Though the narrative never comes together as more than an assortment of oddball episodes from small-town life, Cady's loquacious voice and skill at spinning tall tales from the dross of his characters' daily lives still provide moments of charm and enchantment. (Oct. 16)

FYI:Cady has won the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, as well as the Harper First Fiction prize.