Murdoch's third novel, following her melodramatic In Her Own Image and the rambling saga Family Business, is in another mood entirely; call it Norman Rockwell on a bender, since it's the caperish story of Pericles Morgan's last months on earth--which prove anything but uneventful. The Morgan family sends out a call to Pericles's niece, Joelene Mathiesen, a California widow, to come home to care for the old cuss. So Joelene packs her persimmon-colored Mustang and, along with teen-age son George, takes off, completely unaware that there's a fortune in large bills hidden under the back seat- -the property of her crooked ex-boyfriend, Don Diamond, who owes the dough to a gang of Colombian thugs. In the Hudson River village where she grew up, she finds Uncle Percy as difficult, unwashed, and unredeemed as ever, and she also discovers something else: a gigantic ark, which the duffer's been building for the last 30 or so years. Meanwhile, George, a problem child at best who wears an earring, dotes on the Grateful Dead, and smokes pot, turns out to be a fine companion for Uncle Percy, and Joelene meets a nice volunteer fireman named Pete. But then Don Diamond shows up with his bumbling henchman Ernie in pursuit of the loot, which, it turns out, George has found and hidden in sandbags at the ark construction site. There's a shoot-'em-up, during which Uncle Percy checks out, but a happy ending in store for Joelene and George nonetheless. Murdoch writes well--always has, in fact--but hasn't yet, it seems, stumbled on the right material. Here, she's eminently cute and quirky, but her story's thin, striving to be touching but generally landing in puddles of sitcom situation and sentiment.