The eighth of Ripley's novels about sometime driver Fitzroy Maclean Angel (Angel City, 1995, etc.) might just as well have started off with Angel sitting in a pub doing what he does best- -nothing--when a trio of young ladies asks him to judge which of them has the most muscular thighs: a strenuous hands-on judicial procedure climaxing in a special prize the winner presents to the judge. But it doesn't start with this scene; instead Ripley plunges into the middle of his story, with Angel's last drink with freelance photographer Eugene Sargeant before Sarge is murdered--stabbed in the head--and a pair of vaudevillian police officers haul Angel on the carpet. The constant shifts among different time frames--the ``before'' of Angel's first involvement with the three principals of TAL fashion (model Thalia Leonard, designer Amy May, bookkeeper Lyn Buttress), the ``then'' of Angel's deal with Sarge to take some pictures, the ``later'' of the police grilling, and the ``now'' of now--jazz up what would otherwise be the fairly predictable story of Angel's drift into a twilit world of low-fashion wars, drugs, race wars, and Nazis in the attic. Modishly amusing stuff, though Ripley's determination to jolt you early and often keeps Angel's dark descent from developing the momentum that a more gradual immersion might have created.