With its breathtaking narrative lure and raw but soft-edged cityscapes, this impressive first novel almost transcends the cliches of spiritual awakening and homosexual obsession on which it rests. Unsuccessful Manhattan photographer Eugene, lapsed Catholic and displaced Midwesterner (""The placement bureau within him seemed to have shut down without notice""), is covering a crude-beautiful Holy Week crucifixion pageant in the Lower East Side's Spanish ghetto. Why? Because there might be some good pictures in it and because he's attracted to one of the teenage Roman soldiers in papier-mÃ…chÃ¨ armor and crepe-paper crest. As Eugene snaps wildly, a riot erupts, the object of his timid affections is stabbed to death, and his picture-filled Nikon is swiped--probably by the thirteen-year-old urchin who's been pestering him all day. Eugene's taut search through slum streets for the stolen camera--which may hold evidence of the murderer's identity--brings him close to the limits of self-disgust, close to people who see through him. To Father Carusone, a wearily knowing priest. To Raimundo, the murdered boy's ""friend,"" whom Eugene might seduce, if the young man weren't so busy preening, posing, and killing rats in Eugene's Soho loft. And, above all, to the supposed thief, who--as Eugene learns about his life of premature independence--becomes an object of blazing (but somehow pure and protective?) infatuation. Here, with the overfamiliar idealization of the pubescent boy, Caldwell loses much of his grip, lapsing into lavender if not purple (""A beating of wings is heard""), working up to a finale that links up sex with aggression (a prominent theme throughout) rather too tidily. But, even if In Such Dark Places sometimes confuses clinical psychology for spiritual verities, it grapples seriously with the quietly believable trauma of the not-quite-liberated homosexual--and introduces a storytelling craftsman of uncommon sensitivity and pull.