Grover Graft, 29, investigative reporter for the Times-Herald of Albany, N.Y. (coyly referred to as ""the Capital"" throughout), is the chatty narrator-hero of this cheerfully derivative thriller--which centers, like one out of every three mysteries a couple of years back, on a fiendish religious cult. Grover, despite resistance from his stodgy bosses at the ""rag,"" keeps digging into the doings of a local cult called the Children of Abraham--especially when a suburban couple begs him to search for their daughter, who disappeared after joining the cult's California branch. So, undeterred by harassment by the cult (via seduction, false accusations, and cat-murder), Grover is soon heading out to San Francisco--where his sleuthing almost immediately seems to lead to the throat-cutting of an ex-cultist informer. Then, back east, the trail leads to a cult farm in Vermont--where Grover catches a glimpse of his old flame Lisa Hurlbett, twin sister of his old pal Jim, who was recently found murder-mutilated! (Pieces of the carefully dismembered body turned up at landfills across Vermont.) And, after quitting his newspaper job in the standard rebel-reporter fashion, Grover goes it alone against the cult--unmasking its shadowy guru, battling several crazies, surviving various ordeals and chases. . .and exposing a lurid scheme involving lobotomy, incest, drugs, homosexuality, and blackmail. If ever there were a (modestly) talented writer in desperate search of something to write about, it's the restless Mr. Kunstler--whose previous, uneven efforts have included historical fiction, a rock-'n'-roll novel, and summer-camp reminiscences. Here he works hard at the raunchy, slangy, irreverent tones of Grover's narration, with results that are sometimes merely adolescent, sometimes reasonably engaging (on third-rate newspapers, shopping malls, etc.). But the mystery plotting is labored, coincidence-heavy, and ultimately predictable--making this middling formula fare, and far less impressive than either An Embarrassment of Riches or The Life of Byron Jaynes.