John and Merle Wright come home to find their 16-month-old daughter missing and their sexy coed babysitter dead on the couch with her skull hammered in. With no clues and no ransom note, the investigation focuses on the babysitter, Paula Aherne, who turns out to be an Amherst nonstudent Who only lurked about the classrooms, having nothing better to do. In fact, she wasn't even named Paula, and everything that she'd told the Wrights about herself seems to be false. Since this is a federal crime, the FBI has sent its two most Kafka-esque unpersons to investigate, and they are no help to local police chief Ed Tull in his clubfooted investigation of the murder-kidnapping. Meanwhile, the search for Paula is carried into dreary mill towns, small Massachusetts suburbs, Boston's North End, and the lives of a handful of university folk. A Carson McCullers (Reflections in a Golden Eye) motif is struck about halfway through, as we're introduced to a sexual misfit who may or may not have buried the baby in the woods. Also under examination: a wisecracking Mafioso-style cafe owner with whom Paula lived after she ran away from her foster parents and insane mother. Not uninteresting characters--but take warning. Though the initial premise is intriguing and the climax has a nervous shine, Coburn has built this frustrating first novel almost entirely out of red herrings--a gimmick that will enrage more readers than it entertains.