One neo-noir thriller too many from Gifford (Baby Cat-Face, 1995, etc.). When Gifford’s surrealistic slices of down-and-out life in the South and Southwest started appearing (in the series of novels featuring Sailor and his true love Lula), they sounded a fresh chord. He nicely mixed laconic hustlers and heroes with a hard- boiled prose and the hectic pace and crowded adventures of a folk tale, creating a wry variation on noirish thrillers. The books were both sardonic and violent. But the formula has grown somewhat stale; even Gifford seems to be losing interest. This time out, the story begins as a typically kinky thriller, featuring Ava Varazo, a tough and alluring prostitute intent on settling scores with her boss, Indio Descato, a fatally self-confident hood.. She needs help to do so, and DelRay Mudo, a restless mechanic, perfectly fits the bill: He’s an outsider, enamored of her, and not shy of violence. With DelRay’s help, Ava manages to rip off Indio. Then the tale takes one of several jarring turns. Ava isn’t simply a lost soul; she’s a Mexican revolutionary, and the money she steals from Indio isn’t meant to bankroll their life together but to buy weapons for her comrades. DelRay follows her south, and gets drawn into the uprising against the Mexican government (the rebels refer to themselves as “The Countless Raindrops,” anticipating a groundswell of support). Other characters show up, including a tough, honorable American ex-soldier and his black wife and, of course, Indio and his boys following Ava’s trail. Then, curiously, Gifford allows the narrative to dwindle to a stop; some characters die off-stage, others disappear, and a fragmentary diary, kept by a prostitute, intrudes. The ending is needlessly cryptic. Gifford remains a talented technician. There is nasty humor, and some wonderfully peculiar characters here, but there isn’t much else. A puzzling, rather inert, work.