Out of La Crosse, Wisconsin (home of Nicholas Ray), comes a quirky black comedy paying considerable homage to film noir: a solid debut about a hired psychokiller who steps off a bus into a city aware of (and dreading) his arrival, sending ripples of fear and desperation through the demimonde. Before killer Richie Buck brought matters to a head by decapitating a live pigeon with his teeth, the denizens of La Crosse lived their squalid lives with no interest in betterment. Protagonist Spleen sponged off his twin brother, living the low life to the fullest, until he met The Sneering Brunette in a pawn shop just as its owner was detailing his son's failed suicide leap into the river. Spleen and the Brunette exchange a few words and then cut to the chase, climbing into bed and into each other's tawdry lives. A chance hotdog on a cold night brings them to misery, however, when they interrupt a stakeout of the bus station as the hit man arrives; the Brunette's ex, the man who hired Buck, sees the couple and decides that letting them live would be a liability. A pair of rogue undercover cops enter the mix through the stakeout, along with a pigeon fancier who, after Buck swallows his pet's head, warns Spleen of what to expect. Taking action for the first time in his life, Spleen goes on the offensive, buying a pistol and setting a trap for Buck, after first setting up both the cops and Buck's employer. But his inability to commit totally to the Brunette sends her out the door, and his well-laid plan for the showdown is obscured by, believe it or not, an especially heavy hatch of mayflies. Melodramatic and tough-guy-terse to excess, in true noir tradition, with a fringe of grim humor: a first novel that's too heavy on the hardboil at times, but appealing in its idiosyncracies all the same--and an almost sure harbinger of better things to come.