From the author of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy: an uneasy, lurching mix of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. Old recluse Ben Free invites four people--private detective Cliff Stubb, failed salesman Ozzie Barnes, fat whore Candy Garth, and gypsy witch Madame Serpentina--to share, rent-free, his condemned house in the hope that their presence will somehow prevent the scheduled demolition. The four do their best to help, though the house is destroyed anyway--but not before Free reveals that he has hidden a gizmo that will confer vast powers on the finder. Free then disappears; so the four form a pact to locate both Free and the gizmo and share equally in the benefits. They perform each according to their talents, but few clues turn up. Meanwhile, there are some arresting outtakes--such as a black-comic mental-hospital scene where the staff aggressively psychoanalyzes even casual visitors, then claps them in restraints and administers tranquillizers. Later, Free turns up dead, along with several gun-toting types who claim to be Free's relatives; the four are captured and abused, then taken to confront a living Free! How come? Well, the gizmo turns out to be a time machine--and Free sends the four back in time to give them another chance, as a reward for trying to help the senior version of Free defend his home. A hybrid novel of many parts but little overall cohesion or shape--Wolfe often seems merely to be extemporizing; and the ending, which violates all the tried-and-true sf rules concerning mysterious gizmos, is a bust. Indeed, the real puzzle here, as with most Wolfe novels, is why--for all his intelligence and inventive gifts--he can't put together a book that fully convinces and satisfies.