A slow start stalls this literate, intricate trenchcoat tale of San Francisco marijuana smugglers and other assorted Bay-area bottom-dwellers. In three previous novels and two story collections, Poverman (Skin, 1992, etc.) has offered prolonged, often excruciating examinations of brooding losers and deluded social exiles who must choose between self-destruction or an uncomfortable journey to self-discovery. It's a bit of a surprise, then, to meet Frank August, who seems in many ways a rewrite of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder brand of burned-out, street-wise alcoholic private eye. But unlike Scudder, who navigates the urban landscape by doing good and trusting his instincts, Poverman's August can't let a moment pass without wallowing in oppressive, depressive memories of his failure to satisfy the expectations of his late father. Having flunked the bar exam, suffered alcoholic blackouts, and cheated on his wife Karen a few too many times, August has run out of both money and luck when he gets a call from sleazy criminal lawyer Aram Melikan to take a statement from Ray Buchanon, a part-time pot smuggler who's been snared by a DEA sting. August and Buchanon not only collaborated on a few marijuana runs in the past, but have had flings with Sarah Anne Gillette, a standard issue femme fatale who may have had something to do with the unsolved murder of playboy drug dealer Richie Davis. Poverman piles on more plot complications involving August's tediously remembered past until, about half-way through, the book settles down into a cool, smoothly told whodunit in which August sorts out his conflicted loyalties and emerges nearly whole. A better-than-average mystery-adventure somewhat awkwardly recast as a journey to personal redemption.