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Gerry Boyle. Berkley Publishing Group, $22.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-425-16147-0

Boyle's fifth book (after 1997's Potshot) about reporter Jack McMorrow, formerly of the New York Times and now working a mellower beat in Maine, starts off on a promising note before wandering off-key. Jack stumbles into a potentially explosive crime story while researching a travel piece about Benedict Arnold's Revolutionary War trek to Quebec. In the small town of Scanesett, Jack learns that a chunky, undistinguished man who gave his name as P. Ray Mantis recently disappeared from a tour bus headed for Canada. The questions Jack asks about the missing man lead only to more questions. What connection does Mantis have with a dysfunctional local family? Why do people keep trying to deflect Jack from digging into the disappearance? On his own (his lover Roxanne is in Florida, dealing with her mother's deteriorating mental condition, and his neighbor Clair is in North Carolina, facing surgery), Jack drinks many cups of tea and a few bottles of ale as he researches the travel story with one hand and stirs the Scanesett crime pot with the other. A local female cop with a new baby is a solid character, and Roxanne's family dilemma is touchingly sketched. But the details of Arnold's expedition go on for several dozen pages too many, and the wispy mystery surrounding Mantis doesn't develop enough force to sustain a reader's interest. (Mar.)