A convincing portrait of a burnt-out assassin and a couple of tense scenes rescue this thriller from the terminal mediocrity threatened by its tired supporting cast, meandering plot, and silly denouement: another patchy offering from Prior (A Cast of Stars, Never Been Kissed). In second-rate cloak-and-dagger tradition, Prior endeavors to set a shadowy tone by endowing his hero, Jay, with no last name, and Jay's superior, a thinly sketched Mr. Jones, with no first one. Jay kills on Mr. Jones' orders for love of England alone; the pay is abysmal. But even morally propelled assassins bumble; as the story opens, Jay hits the wrong target and as punishment is sent by Mr. Jones on a grueling four-day refresher course at SAS (England's super-Green Berets) headquarters. There, in the novel's most exciting scene, Jay passes with flying colors a harrowing survival run that tests every fiber of his muscle and nerve. Pleased with Jay's showing, Mt. Jones dispatches him to knock off an IRA supporter at a spooky backwater Dublin pub in the novel's second--and last--suspenseful episode. The killing proceeds sloppily, with too many witnesses; a disgusted and frightened Jay escapes with his girlfriend to France, only to be tracked down by the IRA, who car-bomb the girl. From here on the narrative nose-dives into pulp fare as Mr. Jones agrees to loan Jay (who now wants out but can't afford it) to a renegade CIA officer and his sexy assistant (both constructed from cardboard left over by Ian Fleming); they offer Jay a fortune to perform a hit in the States. Jay determines to do the job, take the money, and run; but when the target turns out to be none other than a loosely disguised Ted Kennedy (!), Jay's bruised but still prickly morality prevents his pulling the trigger. Nearly broke and on the run, he flees to France again, where he plans to hide out forever. Prior's hodgepodge of moth-eaten thriller mixings almost, but not quite, buries the thoughtful delineation of his central character. Overall, an anemic offering.