Poetic visionaries of an apocalyptic turn have William Blake; and neo-beatnik New York junkies have Buddy Giovinazzo (Life Is Hot in Cracktown, 1993), whose firm grasp of the surreal fin-de-siäcle urban patois makes for lively page-flipping in his latest, a sort of underground picaresque murder mystery. Racked by terminal brain cancer, Eddie, Giovinazzo's protagonist, is a collector of hard-luck cases: Whores, addicts, and other losers drifting through a sordid vision of Manhattan are all part of Eddie's borderline world. His sister, Denise, is a dominatrix with money troubles who's hatched a scheme to solve her problems: She'll videotape her wealthy johns in compromising positions and blackmail them. Eddie becomes her cameraman. When Denise is murdered--beaten to a pulp, presumably by one of the guys she was blackmailing--Eddie takes a woozy vow to find her killer. He enlists the aid of his new girlfriend, Kaval, a wayward trust-fund baby with a hair-trigger temper who helps drag Eddie out of his pharmaceutically managed funk. Particularly harrowing is the account of the twisted couple's visit to Kaval's parents in Los Angeles. Eddie is prone to hallucinations that both drive and obscure the plot; particularly visceral are his run-ins with a manipulative dog who seems to serve as a kind of devilish tempter. A few appearances by his pedophile stepfather add a pinch more of nastiness to an already disturbing and grisly tale. Off the deep end for the second half of the book--as well as armed and dangerous--Eddie lets his search for the truth become less and less focused. But when you can read prose like ``The sun beat down like Astroturf on plastic bones, and standing in the corner I saw colors of hunger and longing but all the different colors were black,'' who needs clarity? A relentlessly grim urban pastiche that nonetheless never lets down its central character, whose heart really is in the right place. Weirdly ennobling.