First hardcover dark fantasy entry in what looks like a series to be called Wraith: The Oblivion, by the Maine author of 13 horror novels. The astral plane has a long and vivid history in nonfiction studies of the paranormal. Hautala, however, keeps to suspense clichÇs when his hero, David Robinson, wakes up dead in the Shadowlands. Killed when hit by a truck, David is now a wraith, and the Shadowlands is peopled with fearful shapechangers, the worst being the barking barghests and the slavers who want to cart David off in chains and dump him into the forges of Stygia. And then there are the Ferrymen, who, like Charon, will take you to a far shore that may be either horrible or a place of transcendent peace- -one can't tell about these Ferrymen's promises. David is looking for Karen, his child, whose death five years earlier contributed to his divorce from Sarah, a research librarian. David is (or was) a suicidally depressed midlist mystery writer whose last three books slid to oblivion and whose agent has just dumped him. Unless you're a witty stylist like the late Kingsley Amis, the basic facts about David promise little toward generating an interesting hero--which he's not. Meanwhile, back in the world of the living, Sarah seduces Tony Ranieri, a law student ten years her junior and a dreary stud who possesses one of the three lost knives of Jack the Ripper, which have disappeared from a museum. The knife has savage powers and demands blood, preferably Sarah's--a danger of which David, temporarily slipping back into our world, tries unavailingly to warn her. Eventually, he himself gets the knife, whose power can bring oblivion in the Shadowlands. . . . Murky, but not perky.