A minor-key first novel set in L.A.'s jazz world that's as brassy and self-consciously hip as the tunes its hero blows on his saxophone. Creech alternates three time-frames and two narrative voices in his tale of jazz-genius Ray "the Face." There's 32-year-old Ray telling of his troubles with money, women, and career; and then there's a third-person narration of Ray's poor-white childhood in Iowa with a battered mom and jazz-musician dad, and of his broke old age spent playing for coins outside of Cartier in Manhattan. The few scenes of the aged Ray reek with bathos; the more frequent ones of Ray's youth serve up a harsh landscape of beatings, sexual fumblings, and a chaotic home-life culminating in his mom's attempted suicide. Most prominent, frequent, and involving are the first-person narrations, which follow talented Ray's quick spiral down into crime and self-triggered failure--mostly in the company of best pal Lonnie, a young black bass player with a penchant for petty crime and clichÇd rap (". . .doan feel too spooky all right? At least you're white. Slap down the free whiskey and shut the fuck up, man"). When Ray's hot-blooded girlfriend cools towards him, he--in between low-paying gigs--joins Lonnie in an extended crime-spree that sees them mug several (a botched take-down of a cabbie is the novel's tensely black-comic highpoint) and then rip off a dope-dealer friend. Bodice-ripping lust for two black women keeps Ray's mind off his problems for a bit, but when his one-time idol, jazz great Coleman King, steals his music, and then Lonnie's shot dead holding up a liquor store, Ray splits for Iowa and the uneasy comfort of home. Awash in local color, smugly stylish in patches, and so cool it's numbing--but the hero's a jerk, his ersatz-outlaw's story is choppy in the telling, and here music and crime add up to a discordant riff with more flats than sharps.