He was a Welsh tea merchant. One of the first documented paranoid schizophrenics. A prisoner in turn-of-the-19th-century London's infamous Bedlam asylum who believed his thoughts and actions were being controlled by an underground pneumatic device called the ''Air Loom.'' And, for a brief moment, a key player in the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution. These are the extraordinary facts of James Tilly Matthews' life, and in the hands of a writer like Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City), they would have made for a stupendous book. All the more a shame, then, that Jay -- shackled to rote detail, plodding in language -- can't quite whip his tasty raw materials into a more appetizing dish.