Boston politics, dirty-tricks-style--which is the only style practiced by Tom Kell, a mercenary hired by right-wing industrialist William Coy to prevent the re-election of popular Republican Senator John F. X. Kane, who's too liberal, Irish, and working-class for the taste of old-line Beacon Hill and Martha's Vineyard. Kell duly plants newspaper stories about Kane's (imaginary) tax evasion, uses a phony letter to get Kane into trouble with the volatile anti-busing crowd, and starts grooming a primary opponent--a disarmingly nervy young climber who's determined to be more than just a spoiler. And by the time Kane starts fighting back (a neat turnaround), we've met 40-ish Kell's singularly unappealing women: ex-wife Nancy (the best of the lot), ex-mistress columnist Laura (an ""odd mix of Mary McGrory and Betty Friedan""), and new, hard-to-get mistress, foul-mouthed millionairess Monica. Flannery, once chief of staff to a Massachusetts governor, is far more comfortable with politics than sex, so most of the back-room maneuvers here have an authentic verve and contemporary precision that's missing in the bedroom. And the negotiations and strategy sessions bristle with Machiavellian panache--except when (quite often) Flannery's trying far too hard to be smart or raunchy or comic and only winds up being astoundingly arch (""Cocky prick."" / ""Pricky cock, too, from what you say""). Most seriously, however, Kell's doubts about the right-or-wrong of his chosen profession never convince or develop, leaving a hollow center for this fast-moving circle of lies, leaks, back-stabs, and sell-outs.