cover image First Light

First Light

Peter Ackroyd. Grove/Atlantic, $19.95 (328pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1161-6

T. S. Eliot biographer and novelist Ackroyd ( Chatterton ) again delivers a fascinatingly ambiguous tale. The discovery of a neolithic grave site on the Devon-Dorset border attracts an assortment of archeologists, astronomers and indigenous characters. Each has his own agenda, from archeologist Mark Clare, hoping to prove a maverick theory, to Joey Hanover, a show-biz character who happens along in search of his roots. Astronomer Damien Fall may have discovered something astonishing, and the exceedingly peculiar Farmer Mint and his idiot savant son, Boy Mint, may hold more cards in this game than anyone knows. The novel is carefully imbued with several ominous portents that lead nowhere, but the tone is so deliciously creepy that it doesn't matter. Ackroyd's sly humor is beguiling; he has given some of the best lines to a lesbian couple and Joey's malaprop wife. (`` `Look at those kikes,' Florey Hanover was saying to her husband. `Dressed like Winston Churchill.' `Dykes, dear.' '') Silliness and illumination fit together perfectly in this amusing, eccentric and provocative novel. (Sept.)