A vacuum-cleaner salesman becomes entangled in a homicidal biker's quest to avenge his brother's murder: Nunn's death-haunted third novel (after Tapping the Source, 1984; Unassigned Territory, 1987) is as much about southern California's spacious past as its druggy, tacky present. After a few weeks on the job, 40-ish Earl Dean has become one of the best salesmen in town (Pomona, south of Los Angeles); the ``aging hipster'' is putting together the money to claim his inheritance and oust his stepfather from the land first settled by his great-grandfather, an orange grower. But bad luck brings Dean to the house of Dan Brown, ``full-blown white trash,'' who once killed a cop and is now getting seriously drunk guarding the corpse of his brother Buddy until he learns who killed him. This opening segment is magnificent black comedy, as Dean tries to pacify the unpredictable biker (``the man could go off''). Then word arrives that Buddy was stabbed by a wild woman with blond dreadlocks, leader of a band called Pomona Queen, and Dean, a great believer in secret signs, has a flash: The same name was used for the artwork on his great-grandfather's packing crates. The rest of the novel alternates between the buildup to a climactic confrontation with the alleged killer at a mall concert, and Dean's thoughts as he rides around town, the prisoner of Dan and his henchmen--for Dean, high as a kite but also badly shaken after various escape attempts, keeps seeing ``the pale grid of the dead'': especially his great- grandfather, shot mysteriously as Pomona's Chinatown was torched, and his one true love, Rayann, dying insane after too many bad trips. Much of the suspense ebbs away (despite a plot twist involving the killer's identity) as Nunn sifts through the layers of Dean's karma, and as Pomona's past rolls in like fog; still, Nunn remains an exciting writer, working close to the edge.