A mysterious Prodigal Son returns to his New Hampshire village, but there's more mystification than mystery in Strong's slow, fussy fourth novel; it follows Companion Pieces, two novellas published earlier this year. Otis Pond was dominated for years by two mill-owning families, the Ottos and the Laras. But the last Lara, the skirt-chasing, hell-raising Sam, took off when he was 18, and the mill died with his grandfather. Now, 30 years later, Sam has returned from distant parts with an epicene Arab called Khaled in tow, and the village is buzzing with rumors. Could Sam have turned gay? Nobody is more curious than narrator Otis Cable. Otis is the village handyman and ``village memory,'' an intensely bookish fellow devoted to local history. He is also an out-of-the-closet homosexual with bittersweet memories of Sam, who once forced Otis to fellate him at knifepoint. Alas, Otis's curiosity will not be satisfied, for Strong doesn't have the faintest idea what to do with the uncommunicative Sam, other than to insist that his charisma is still intact. A confrontation with a local businessman, Ezzelino, who may have the goods on Sam, is nipped in the bud when Ezzelino vanishes. Foul play? That's what surviving mill-owner Fred Otto figures as he tries to drag Sam to court, but the wild man eludes him in a high-speed car chase that ends in Sam's death. Finally, we get a number of bizarre answers--though Khaled's tale remains, as the title promised, ``untold.'' There's an unbridgeable gap between plot and theme here. Strong never seems comfortable spinning suspense out of Sam's past and Ezzelino's disappearance; where he's happiest is in celebrating the life of a tradition-bound village endangered by a wave of well- heeled professionals fleeing the cities.