After the scuzzo verbal pyrotechnics of Bell's debut book, The Washington Square Ensemble, a sophomore slump--Waiting for the End of the World: a high-energy, no-content semi-thriller--was not unforgivable. But as once more a genre rises lazily to the fore--here it's a drug deal in Europe interspersed with some utterly extraneous technical background (the narrator is a free-lance film-editor)--Bell's prose style correspondingly has grown slacker, more alkaline--and you get the unsettling sensation of watching a talent taking it so easy that it's dissolving into a pool. Tracy Bateman is the film editor, and he works on and off for his best friend and most serious rival, Kevin Carter (they share Tracy's rather faithless and bored wife Lauren). Kevin finances his films by dealing in cocaine, and dealing not very skillfully at that. So when Tracy is dispatched to Rome to work on a film Kevin wants him to cut there and when he discovers Lauren there also--with a suitcase--the plot clicks into predictable gear: saving Lauren from the inevitable dangerous screw-up of Kevin's schemes, Tracy runs the deal himself, perilously trying to screw it up for Kevin--thus negating the whole fiasco. To give all this a little seriousness, Bell throws in undigested lumps of film-editing expertise to vouch for Tracy's integrity--as well as lots of quotes from Kierkegaard. But a reader won't be fooled by either the technology or the existentialism. With shells for characters, shadows for acts, and rice-plain prose, the book's just another weary thriller with airs.