A GHOST STORY: CAPOTE IN KANSAS, by Kim Powers, Carroll and Graf, 254 pages, $25.

This strange book is billed as "an forgettable 'what might have been' — a fantasia of ghosts seeking resolve and revenge." Written by Kim Powers, a television writer, it is allegedly a story of two writing friends, Truman Capote and Harper Lee.

Capote was a prolific writer, probably most noted for "In Cold Blood," a true story about a heinous crime in Kansas. Lee is the august author of a classic, "To Kill a Mockingbird," a searing novel about racism in the South.

Because Lee was known to have spent time in Kansas with Capote while he was researching his crime novel, the author tries to re-create the spirit of their friendship and the way their brains worked together. Powers even implies that Capote actually wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," because Harper Lee never wrote another novel.

Well, to write such an amazing book the first time up made any second novel a huge challenge as well as a risk. Second novels have a way of sinking following brilliant first novels. Just ask Alice Sebold, author of the hugely successful and critically acclaimed first novel, "The Lovely Bones," who waited a long time and then earlier this year wrote, "The Almost Moon," which turned out to be a real clunker.

No wonder Lee would be hesitant to write again — let the classic stand.

Essentially, Powers takes two great writers and mercilessly mocks them, and for that he cannot be forgiven. He also indicates in the beginning that he will answer important questions, such as the nature of the relationship between Capote and Lee.

But he fails to deliver.

Powers invents the last year of Capote's life during which he allegedly telephones Lee during drunken stupors and tells her about the ghosts he is seeing — the people he interviewed for "In Cold Blood."

In an author's note, Powers writes that he consulted two primary sources, both books on Capote, and adds that "a surprising amount" of his book "is based on real events" — I doubt it. But he admits that many things (probably the bulk) are the "product of his imagination."

I would have been content to let all of it stay there.

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com