Shriver's second, equally modest and appealing novel plumbs some of the same notions as last year's The Female of the Species: men who seem larger than life, and older-woman/younger-man relationships. In this case, both come together in the title character, Checker Secretti, a 19-year-old rock-drummer of transcendent abilities with both the skins and the ladies. ""Checker and the Derailleurs"" are an obscure rock band who sing mostly about bicycles, and play regularly at a local bar in Astoria, Queens. They're ""a motley or tropical crew, depending on your mood,"" and include J.K., the Jamaican-born postman and bassist; Quiet Carl, the stuttering keyboard player; Caldwell, the lead guitarist; vocalist Rachel DeBruin, ""the original China Doll""; Rahim Abdul, the pretty boy saxophonist and illegal immigrant from Iraq: and of course, Checker himself, a half-black, half-Italian drummer who's given to mysterious disappearances and a lack of professional ambition. As nerdy Howard, the band's ostensible manager, notices, Checker's powers go far beyond his ability to make his less-talented band members sound top-flight. This smooth-talking, handsome boy can soothe savage head-bangers, transform nasty crowds, and charm just about anyone with his Zen-like wisdom, Christ-like sympathy, and androgynous beauty. Discord arrives, though, with one Eaton Striker, a second-best drummer with an eye on the spotlight. When he becomes the Derailleurs' back-up drummer, he begins to drive a wedge through the band with malicious lies and devious maneuvers; he tries to expose Checker's rapturous joy--his ""flow state""-as cult-like, self-aggrandizing bunk. Striker's evil machinations backfire, and reveal Checker's dark secret--a ""flaw"" that only serves to make him a more sympathetic person in the eyes of all, especially the woman who nurses him through, Syria Pyramus, the 29-year-old glass-blower with a nononsense style and flamboyant good looks. An ill-conceived epilogue plays to this fluent melodrama's strong suit--characters to care about.