After some jaunty opening pages which seem to promise antic charactercomedy in an urban vein, this small novel starts mixing in a handful of iffy genres--religious-cult thriller, philosophical fantasy, identity crisis, political satire--and comes up with a sticky, only fitfully amusing fable. Restless young Frank and his fat, brilliant Uncle Julian are driving through Indiana, having temporarily abandoned their thriving N.Y. fake-thesis business (""Ed.D. dissertations for all comers, on ten days' notice"") so that an obsessed Julian can track down one of their mail-order clients: mysterious J. Randolph Wong, whose thesis materials include ancient Viking parchments which may lead to buried Viking gold! And the search for Wong promptly lands Frank and Julian in a Twilight-Zone town--where Father Magnus of the Holy Mother Church is running for sheriff against incumbent Olaf, where astrologer Sybil serves mead and aphrodisiacs at the local motelinn, and where Frank becomes sort of a fugitive after killing a rampaging bull at Magnus' county-fair revival meeting. He manages to elude both the Magnus forces (who want to make him a god) and the Olaf forces (who want to kill him) with help from sexy teenager Frieda--who deals in mystical clues (""Some day. . . the friar will appear on earth, and the tale will be ended at last"") and carnal joy, along with some environmental activism and credos on ""love."" But, meanwhile, Frank also has to contend with memories of his father (a suicide), quarrels with Uncle Julian (who wants to abandon materialism and ""go straight""), and Julian's scholar-sleuth attempts to figure out what's going on in this ""spaced-out little town""--a hotbed of Viking tradition, eastern mysticism, and Mithraic caves. Finally, then, the Viking-descended cult of ""the Great Mother and the Unconquered Sun"" comes clean. . . as both Olaf and Magnus perish in a ritual-altar showdown--and Frank (after much talk of ""truth"") drives off into the sunset with Frieda. True, all this isn't quite so lumberingiy pretentious as it sounds; poet-novelist Appleman (In the Twelfth Year of the War) provides spots of neat irony and a fair comic figure in Falstaffian Julian. But whiny, faceless Frank is an unconvincing, half-written hero--certainly not engaging enough to provide a center for this thinly erudite mishmash of satire, philosophy, and melodrama.