Horrific satire of Hollywood-based network TV, with the satire more biting than the horror. First-novelist Matheson (Scars, 1987) knows his target: Son of veteran screen/TV-writer Richard Matheson, he's written for Quincy, Hunter, and Magnum PI. Matheson's TV-land is a cruel sea of Armani-suited sharks, few of whom have sharper teeth than writer Alan White, who's come up with the perfect remedy for the networks' rating blues: Give the public the graphic sex and violence they crave. White pitches his concept for The Mercenary--a hardcore gore-porn drama about a human killing machine--to one network, which bites. Months later, The Mercenary is the hottest TV show ever and White is on the A-list everywhere in a Tinseltown painted here in a garish light--a town where most ``actors couldn't've gotten work in claymation'' and a young network hotshot laughs like ``a satanic muppet.'' But then things go wrong--in both Matheson's plotting and White's life--as the novelist draws on a worn Frankenstein variant recently used by Chet Williamson (in Reign) and Stephen King (in The Dark Half): White's fictional creation, the mercenary A.E. Barek, comes to life. It takes several ghastly murders and maimings of those inimical to the series and its antihero (including the blinding of a harsh critic, and a rampage in a biker bar that bears an unhappy resemblance to scenes in the films Terminator II and Near Dark) for White to catch on fully. Weakened by his monster, who's sucking away his creator's life energy in order to solidify his own self, a repentant White confronts Barek in a dragged-out blood-brawl--one with an unexpectedly ironic ending. Matheson's slashing prose and wit draw blood, but his borrowings serve him ill. Still, an unusually clever horror novel.