Fans of Mcdonald, gifted author of the Fletch comic-mystery series, will look in vain for humor or suspense in this first volume of a planned four-part saga: a talky, sentimental, busily peopled but stubbornly undramatic soap opera. Jazz-piano great David MacFarlane, now retired to a Tennessee farm with longtime girlfriend Ellie (an ex-prostitute), happens to have three equally famous old chums, all of whom grew up together in Maine: upright ex-preacher Dan Prescott, now a male model supreme; black columnist-crusader-poet John Nelson; and Paris fashion tycoon Janet Twombly, who married John after liaisons with both David and Dan. So when Dan's son (a White House speechwriter) gets engaged to John and Janet's daughter (the world's top fashion model, of course), David offers to host the wedding. Everyone converges on Bass Clef Farm for a week of nostalgia and chatty plot exposition, with little going on aside from Janet's heavy-breathing pursuit of unresponsive old-flame Dan and predictable assorted subplots--David's longtime jazz-partner lying virtually dead in a drug. induced coma in a Nashville hospital; Dan's younger son discovering the joys of first sex with a local teenage girl, and, more extraneously, David's monstrous neighbor abusing his wife, son, and employees, with fatal results. Mcdonald strains for seriousness here and there, with lots of debate about life in an increasingly technological world. (David is experimenting with electronic music, which is verbosely but unevocatively described.) He works hard at creating heartwarming moments, endearingly folksy locals, and earthy lyricism (some graphic sex). But, with a bland, one-dimensional, over-large cast and cliched, un. Fletch-ly dialogue (""You're not going to take another chunk off my heart, lady""), he fails.