With each new work, Auster (Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, etc.) is quickly becoming our preeminent novelist of ideas--a postmodern fabulator who grounds his odd and challenging fictions in conventional and accessible narrative structures. In Auster's latest, a narrator much like himself (a novelist named Peter Aaron) tries to solve the mystery of his best friend's life and death. When he reads a news report of an unidentified man blowing himself up on a Wisconsin roadside, Aaron knows it must be his friend Benjamin Sachs, a once-promising novelist who became a "crazed idealist." Ever since his days in jail as a war resister, Sachs maintained "an attitude of remorseless inner vigilance." His Thoreauvian vision of "personal salvation" through politics eventually results in his strange career as the Phantom of Liberty--an anarchist bomber who blows up replicas of the State of Liberty in town-squares across America. Aaron accepts responsibility for the turn of events because he is "the place where everything begins." Through him, Sachs meets the nutty conceptual artist who in turn identifies the victim of a bizarre murder committed by Sachs, himself "an emblem of the unknowable." As much as this is the story of Sachs's twisted pursuit of mercy and forgiveness, it is also a journey of self-discovery for the narrator, who must deal with his own acts of desire and betrayal. Auster's abstract intentions here are more than balanced by his sense of intrigue and character. In a world thrown off-balance by uncertainty and chance, he pursues facts with the determination of a hard-nosed detective.