It used to be, say, in the late 1940s in Los Angeles, that a ""harp"" kid was likely to become a priest or a cop, like Des or Tom Spellacy--the unbrotherly Irish-Catholic brothers at the center of this corrosive, intriguing, but slightly disappointing first novel by the author of Delano, The Studio, and Vegas. Des is a smooth celibate on the rise, chancellor of the L.A. diocese, a holy whiz with finances, hatchet-man for his golf-playing Cardinal; currently he's trying to extricate the Church building fund from embarrassing kickback arrangements with crooked contractors. Surly Tom, recently transferred from Vice to Robbery-Homicide after being exposed (literally) as a Vice King's bagman, is investigating the headling-grabbing ""Virgin Tramp"" murder--a party girl whose body is found in two pieces on either side of a hedge. Each man's stomping ground is an enticing study in venality--Church and LAPD politics, monsignors and lieutenants in whorehouses--but the emotional pull comes from the inevitable overlaps in corruption, the connections that spotlight the brothers' mutual distaste, buried envies, marginal loyalty: What dirt does Tom know that Des needs to know? What strings can Des pull to save Tom's ass? When Tom has the power to frame an old enemy and, incidentally, bring Des down (Des' semi-innocent link to the murdered girl), will he do it? Dunne knows these worlds. He textures the L.A. toughness of his telegraphic narration and gloriously gross dialogues with Irish musicality and sharp intelligence. One only wishes that Tom and Des were as alive, as fully realized as their surroundings. Despite extended thought-expressions, Des remains a cipher, and Tom's noncop life--an institutionalized wife who talks to saints, a mistress who doesn't understand him, the whore he used to like--is a pale, unconvincing sketch next to the full-color mural of confessionals, playgrounds, restaurants, prizefights, morgues, and chapels. But full-color it is, and worth filling in a few blanks on your own for the unsettling, raucous pleasures of riding through it.