Dan Carpenter--a Vietnam veteran with bad memories, a failed marriage, and a boring Washington job in research-and-consulting--drops out and goes south to his old stomping grounds on the Florida-panhandle coast. He hangs out with old pal Rufus, a loser with drug-trade aspirations. He does some serious fishing with old chum Roy Walker, who tells Dan about the recent mysterious disappearance of a cruising yacht. (There's a reward offered, and Roy has personal reasons for Dan to join him in some sleuthing.) He snorts some cocaine, has some casual sex, and meets failed filmmaker Ed Fitzgerald. . . who hangs around with a creepy mercenary named Fanning. And--after a sail with Fitzgerald, a visit to the mercenary camp, and a talk with the missing yacht's rich owner in New Orleans--Dan starts to figure out that Fitzgerald & Fanning are running a drug-operation and are responsible for the yacht's hijacking. So, with rather murky motivation, he determines to get the goods on Fitzgerald: he puts pressure on Rufus to turn informer; he bargains with the cops; he wonders if he's being betrayed by new love Anne, a born-again sort who used to be involved with sleazy, bisexual Fitzgerald; and finally there's a small dark-of-night showdown at sea--with a ho-hum fadeout for Dan. (""He could make another try at starting over. One more rally point. This time he would be sure to remember that he was nothing special. . . ."") First-novelist Norman, a columnist for Esquire, is trying on a reliable, if tired, formula here: the working-out of a mid-life crisis through an action/suspense episode. The suspense, however, is minimal; Dan's identity-crisis--which includes broodings on Chappaquiddick/Vietnam parallels--is drably unaffecting; and the best passages in this professionally written yet thoroughly uninvolving novel are the quasi-journalistic evocations of Florida fishing and the spaced-out Panhandle subculture.