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In Lowry's wildly imaginative debut, Irish-born art historian Thomas Lynch is a "disappointed pilgrim scholar" with a brutish obsession for the "perversely vital" aesthetic of religious art. The book begins as Lynch, withering away at an idyllic Vermont college amid the provincial minds of fellow faculty and his own alcoholism, is sent packing after a case of sexual misconduct with a student. Crazed and inspired by his brush with bottoming out, Lynch begins a quest to find a vanished painting only he believes exists. Most of the novel takes place inside a decrepit English estate, where Lynch is a guest of the Ropers, who he suspects possess the painting. Lynch's psyche becomes increasingly entangled in the Ropers' esoteric personalities and with a family diary that he believes contains the answer to his "exquisite craving" for discovery. Lowry's gift for poetic precision allows her to keep her cast fresh by providing constantly new insight into their oddities, and though the novel's second half suffers from an undernourished and canned plot, the bold character work and beautiful prose are reason enough to keep reading. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.