``If I were built,'' Dex Cole tells his mate Nick, ``I'd spend the time cracking skulls. . . . I'd never get tired.'' Well, Nick is built, and since he's been fired from his job as a bouncer, why shouldn't he take time helping his jailbait girlfriend Lisa, a black druggie, kidnap local black businessman Ronald Baldwin? And why shouldn't he bring Dex into the job? Though the three of them get along fine--after all, they bluster and swear and fornicate out of a common cultural vocabulary that ranges from Basic Instinct to Woody Allen to Truman Capote to Mickey Rourke to Bruce Springsteen to Rilke's Duino Elegies (``I had culture coming out of my arsehole,'' as Nick puts it)--each one is so violent and unstable that it's only a matter of time before something goes wrong; Baldwin, who alternates between yoga exercises and swapping allusions with his kidnappers, may be in less danger than they are. The inevitable spark comes from Nick's casual ex-lover Bonny Mellor, and when it does, you'd better be a million miles away. Bruen's crime plot is lifted from Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, but his characters' obsession with cultural detritus from T.S. Eliot to Garth Brooks, all of it as painstakingly mastered as if in preparation for an exam in Life of Crime 101, creates a blistering lack of effect. At the same time, Bruen's first novel makes you realize with a thump just how postmodern The Postman Always Rings Twice must have seemed 60 years ago, if they'd only had the word.