Here's what happens as a result of Belfast columnist Dan Starkey's oh-so-brief dalliance with Margaret McBride, whose ``eyes were close together, but not so close as to suggest Catholicism'': Dan's tax-inspector wife Patricia catches the pair together and throws Dan out. Margaret McBride and her mother both get killed. The police go a-hunting for Dan. Dan goes a-hunting for an audiotape worth ú100,000. Dan's brief acquaintance with Mark Brinn, the Alliance Party candidate for Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, takes an unexpectedly nasty turn. Dan meets a trainee nurse prowling the city dressed as a nun, and then a priest whose life has been ruined by his recent heart transplant. Dan falls in with Cow Pat Coogan, Mad Dog Angus, and several other unsavory types who want the audiotape. Patricia gets kidnapped, and sleeps with her captor. A visiting American journalist whom Dan has been escorting around the city makes an abrupt exit from the scene. Dan drinks a little less than usual and says some very funny things. Several bombs go off. There's nothing special about the story this novel unfolds, but Bateman, himself a Belfast journalist (did you guess?), has struck gold the first time out with his mordant, loquacious hero and his ruined landscape. The promised sequel can't arrive too soon.