Helena Carter, the airline heiress who vanished from her Bluff Shores home seven years ago, is about to be declared dead-- a boon to the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Federated Cat Clubs of America, the unlikely joint beneficiaries of her enormous estate. But Chicago Journal reporter Mark Manning isn't about to join in the festivities. He's never been convinced that Helena has died, and now that his publisher, nettled by a recent Manning column disputed by Manning's influential rival at the Post, has told him he's history if he doesn't produce Helena by New Year's Day, he's under pressure to prove it. The author broadly hints that the trail, unbeknown to Manning, will lead to the archconservative Tridentine Catholic community of the Assumption outside Phoenix. But before Manning can follow that trail to an open-and-shut solution, he'll have to survive a party his onetime lover, attorney Roxanne Exner, throws for the newspaper rivals; come to terms with his own unacknowledged homosexuality; and consummate his languorous relationship with jealous Roxanne's friend Neil Waite, an architect who just happens to live in Phoenix. . . . An enlightened, rational, cat-loving, reluctantly gay hero battles phony TV healers, murderous New Age psychics, and benighted Tridentine Catholics. Imagine the fodder this debut, and the promised series, will provide for the foes of liberal humanism.