Dozens of novels have been written about a youthful group crime that comes back to haunt the culprits--and that's the central notion in this first novel by the author of Blood end Money and Serpentine. But while other treatments usually keep the past crime a secret till the last pages, Thompson holds an overlong, often-implausible saga together by reversing the formula: from the start we know all about the youthful evil--but, though we know that something awful has happened 25 years later, it takes 400+ pages for us to find out just what. Thus, after a brief 1975 prologue that gives hints about a big new murder case, we're quickly back in 1950--in Fort Worth, Texas, with ""the three princes"" of the graduating high school class: valedictorian Kleber Cantrell, ""The Prince of Power""; epically handsome football-star Mack Crawford, ""The Prince of Charms""; class-joker/sex-maniac T. J. Luther, ""The Prince of Temptation."" And, the rain-stormy night before graduation, these three best friends wind up drunk in an isolated cabin--where T.J. blithely rapes a 16-year-old virgin, whom the boys then leave for dead near the river. Kleber and Mack are guilt-ridden; T.J. seems blasÃ‰. But all three have their problems with women and guilt (and each other) over the next 20 years as they seek--and find--different sorts of celebrity. The somewhat autobiographical Kleber rises from Texas journalism (grittily detailed) to a Harper's series on civil fights to Pulitzer Prize-dom and stardom as a tough TV-interviewer; there are wives, divorces, and then ""self-actualized"" woman/playwright Ceil. Mack, who was abandoned by his mother and raised by a loony spinster aunt, is further twisted around by the rape/ death: he cuts short his college-ball celebrity with a crippling, kamikaze run; he's reluctantly saved from catatonia by physical therapist Susan, who becomes his long-suffering, mostly non-conjugal wife; spotted by a N.Y. agent, he becomes an actor, then a Redford-like superstar, while sliding into passive bisexuality (ever more distanced from Susan and son Jeff). But T.J.'s life-journey is the most lurid of all: psychopathically envious of his more successful friends (who shun him), he tries to marry money (the bride is secretly bonkers and bankrupt), then becomes a con-man, pimp, creep, murderer, etc.--until a jailhouse accident-cum-""miracle"" turns him into ""The Chosen,"" a rightwing revivalist/faith-healer. And the three will come together, back in Texas for their 25th reunion--as Kleber sets out to expose T.J.'s phony religion and Mack sets out to regain his son (who's now one of T.J.'s acolytes). Result? A violent run-in at that haunted cabin--which leaves Mack dead, T.J. on trial for murder, and Kleber (the celebrity-hungry prosecutor's Star witness) rendered speechless by trauma. . . till the wildly improbable yet strangely satisfying courtroom finale. Throughout, in fact, Thompson's plotting swings back and forth between the grimly believable and the melodramatically contrived. (T.J., for instance, not only finds God; he also seems to double his I.Q.) And the leisurely filling-in of the three life stories sometimes threatens to stretch the suspense too thin. But, except for a few lapses into cornball-journalese (e.g., all that ""Prince"" nomenclature), the storytelling here is grainy, ugly, unsentimentally to the point--and, as in his best non-fiction, Thompson projects a hard-core sense of evil, chaos, and madness just below down-home/well-dressed surfaces. A beady-eyed gripper, then, though perhaps limited in appeal by its all-male starring cast and its very few nods to true romance.