In Joseph McElroy's new novel, the hero sets out on a quest--""a chivalrous enterprise usually involving a journey,"" says Webster's--in order to discover the whereabouts of a kidnapped child. This mysterious and unsolved case has, like the hero's emotional life, been left dormant for some years. Not unexpectedly, as Jack Hind burrows deeper into his psychological who-dunit, he becomes as obsessive as Ahab hunting the White Whale. One clue leads to another, a congeries of characters multiplies as alarmingly as an old Russian melodrama, and the stolidly sensitive hero (McElroy has a penchant for square-jawed ambiguity) suddenly catapults into a maze of eruptive doubts, puzzles, ruminative amours, and whey-faced self-questioning. The experimental Mr. McElroy is more effortful than artful, and his huge, lumbering, painstakingly complex, and doggedly moral work will no doubt impress those who admire the symbol-logged masterpieces of Malcolm Lowry (McElroy, needless to say, has little of Lowry's alcoholic intensity or genuine vision) or those who profess to see in the monumental tableaux of James Gould Cozzens the paradox of America writ plain. That Hind's Kidnap is a serious and capacious attempt to deal with salvationist themes within the guise of a detective story stretching from Brooklyn Heights to New England; that it has intermittent scenes idiosyncratic or pointed enough to evoke the muddled actuality of the way we live now; that it has one mesmeric character, the hero's guardian who turns out, rather like Aristotle's ""third man"" stood on his head, to be the hero's real father--well, these are facts no one can deny. That it is, in the main, a dreadful chore to read, is equally inescapable.