Children of Darkness and Light, by Nicholas Mosley Secker, pounds 15.99 ; What's the opposite of a thriller? Sue Gaisford is stumped by a virginal tale
People who write the blurbs for book jackets have their own agenda: we take their effusions with a pinch of salt. Yet a pinch is far too little to savour the blurb-writer's description of this novel. How could he call it ''a startling political and spiritual thriller''? What's the opposite of a thriller? A sedative? The ? is a favourite key on Nicholas Mosley's typewriter. Perhaps his style is, yes, infectious? Anyway, the last sentence is the kind of thing he likes to write and I'll try to stop copying him now.

Here is an idea of the plot. Harry is a crusading journalist. His marriage is stale and becoming violent; his young son is miserable and often absent; his libido is, he often says, like a monkey scratching itself on a stump. He is sent to cover a story about some children in Cumbria who are said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. They probably haven't, but, on the other hand, they might have stumbled across a cover-up of a leak at a power-station.

Harry likes the idea of the jaunt to the north because it gives him a chance to be alone with Janice, a girl he fancies. In the event, he travels alone and Janice arrives later, waves a condom at him, thinks better of the whole thing and goes back to London. This leaves him free to follow up an interest in Ellen, the hotel receptionist, with whom he spends a night on a mattress. While they bonk - there really isn't a more suitable expression - the oldest of the children, a pre-pubescent girl called Gaby, attaches herself to his back while, in the same room, three younger identical triplet boys are curled up together, each with a small erection. He loves it.

Oh dear. Well, Harry, in whose voice the novel is narrated, spends a good deal of time reminiscing about previous assignments. These have all been of a similar nature: seeking out and condemning evil while, when he gets the chance, exercising his stump-monkey. The story becomes hard to follow as these memories intertwine. Back in the main narrative, he is becoming ever more incoherent, particularly when he wonders whether he is asleep or not. (So did I).

The denouement involves his son and a group of other children spying on a truly disgusting orgy, Harry rescuing a priest from some dangerous and unseemly practises with a crucifix and, finally, Harry's return visit to Bosnia where other refugee children are cared for by someone who might be a nun but who claims to be the Virgin Mary. His marriage, incidentally, will probably be all right now. This impression comes from a very brief conversation in which he tells his wife, astonishingly, that he wants to make love and she remarks that she does want another baby.

It is hard to know what this is all about. A kindlier reviewer might say that it points to the evil in the world suffered and observed by innocent babes, or that, in the weary old butterfly-wing cliche, chance decides what happens and what we choose not to notice. But, although such ideas are suggested, they go against the grain of the story. It is full of muddled moralising, heavy drinking and grim sex. For this reader, the moment of truth came when Janice was, wisely, about to bale out of the hotel and Harry was, as usual, not sure about it. "I sat on the bed. I thought I would sit for a time doing nothing... Somewhere or other there might be some exact understanding of what was happening." Well, I suppose there might.