The Irish McCabe's third novel--and American debut--is a journey into the heart of darkness: the mind of a desperately troubled kid one step away from madness and murder. Francie Brady is a schoolboy in a small town in Ireland. His father is a mean drunk and his mother a slovenly housekeeper, but Francie has a good buddy, Joe Purcell, and their Tom-and-Huck friendship is what sustains him. Then a seemingly trivial incident alters the landscape: Francie and Joe con the very proper Philip Nugent out of his prize collection of comic books, and Philip's mother calls the Bradys ``pigs.'' Henceforth, Francie will blame all his troubles on Mrs. Nugent; it doesn't help that the Nugent household is a cozy haven, maddeningly out of his reach. Matters get rapidly worse. His mother enters a mental hospital. Francie runs away to Dublin; he returns to find that his ma, whom he had promised never to let down, has drowned herself. He breaks into the Nugents' house, defecates on the carpet, is sent to reform school, and (the unkindest cut) loses Joe to Philip Nugent. Francie tells us all of this in a voice that is the novel's greatest triumph--a minimally punctuated but always intelligible flow of razor-sharp impressions, name-calling, self-loathing, pop-culture detritus culled from comic books and John Wayne movies (the time is 1962), all delivered with the assurance of a stand-up comic. Snaking through Francie's story is his longing for childhood innocence, now lost forever, and just an inkling of the gathering mental darkness that will make the gruesome climax inevitable. On a foundation laid by Salinger and Sillitoe, McCabe has created something all his own--an uncompromisingly bleak vision of a child who retains the pathos of a grubby urchin even as he evolves into a monster. His novel is a tour de force.