A hundred years from now, the ritual return and sudden death of a mysterious, absent father lead to troubling questions about his life's work, the Humanus research project, that range far beyond whodunit--in this ambitious, sporadically inspired fantasy/mystery, a real departure for crime-pro Lieberman (Shadow Dancers, 1989, etc.). None of the Jones children immured in the far northern Fraze Institute--slow-witted Cornie, thoughtful Jonathan, petulant Ogden, sharp-tongued Sofi, ardent Letitia, star-crossed Leander, hesitant Cassie--knows what their father looks like, or even (since he's banished mirrors from his transplanted Loire castle) what they themselves look like. All they know is that once a year or so their father returns to interview them individually without revealing his face, then chooses one to take ``into Service'' with him. This time, Leander, the chosen one, vanishes during a family performance of The Tales of Hoffmann--and shortly after, Jones is found murdered. Both Cassie and Jonathan confess to the killing, though it turns out that the father was already dead. So far the story's genre may seem to be clear, especially with the arrival of the Dostoevskian official investigator, Colonel Porphyry. But a frantic note from Cassie takes Jonathan away from Fraze on an abrupt adventure in the brutish world of the neighboring aboriginal Woodsmen, who take him prisoner, put him through unspeakable ritual tortures, and then crown him their king. Meanwhile, back at the castle, Porphyry's search of a file of molding documents reveals that the late Jones wasn't the sprightly 90 he admitted to, but a well-preserved 147--a secret that goes to the heart of his visionary attempt to work with a former Nazi expert on recombinant DNA to prolong life--his own, his children's, and that of the entire species. The mixture of detection and fantasy--the fantasy greatly predominating--makes this somewhat comparable to Akif Pirináci's recent Felidae, though without the imaginative consistency that made Pirináci's book such a tour de force.