It's hard to be kind to a novel that opens with the relentless banality that this does--an ineptitude and amateurishness that rise to a white heat of plodding boredom. The plot: some government contractors are building a dam and lake and two atomic reactors at Burkett's Landing, Georgia, a project that is driving folks off their land with mere pittances for payment. When a poor-folks demonstration marches on the head contractor's office, a bunch of hired goons and ex-Klansmen turns the demonstration into a riot and several townspeople are killed. Clay Horland, editor of the daily Journal, goes forth like Lancelot to find out why the government is involved in such raging lawlessness. What is the great mystery about the lake project? The secret is that the lake is to house an underwater . . . oh, but that is to give away the novel's lone suspenseful device. This will be promoted as ""a major novel set in Jimmy Carter's Georgia""--but the scene could as well be Mississippi for all that it has to do with our toothsome Chief Executive.