As Ford (A Piece of My Heart) goes about setting up his initial scene--a rootless, alienated American in Oaxaca, Mexico, picks up an equally rootless girl and takes her to a boxing match where one of the fighters promptly has one of his eyeballs punched out--you begin to get a sinking feeling. When you learn that the American, Harry Quinn, is in Oaxaca in order to arrange for his lover's brother (a drug-dealer) to be sprung from a local prison, you sink a little lower--then lower still when you're introduced to Rae herself, Quinn's disaffected, zombie-oid lover. And things hit just about rock-bottom when these flat, clichÃ‰d characters begin to be surrounded by Ford's dreadful macho/psychological prose, a syrup boiled down from the worst tendencies of everyone from Hemingway to Robert Stone: "Mexico was like Vietnam or L.A., only more disappointing--a great trivial abundance of crap the chief effect of which wasn't variety but sameness. And since you couldn't remember the particulars from one day to the next, you couldn't avoid and control. And the only consolation finally was that you didn't have any stake in it, and Quinn didn't figure to be around long enough to earn one." Or: "Bernhardt's absence made him feel marooned, close to the lean, satisfied edge of all losses, the point where time froze on whatever was present, and nothing could be longed for or feared and protected against, and luck seemed like not the thing you played. It was the best luck there was." Very quickly, then, the combination of this pretentious/empty verbiage with the existential-thriller formula becomes a numbing one, and the plot itself, involving drug-traffickers, offers no surprises: thanks to a double-cross, Quinn and Rae never do get Rae's brother out of jail, and some shoot-ups ensue. True, A Piece of My Heart (though somewhat weighed down with similarly broody, hollow prose) did show a talent for Southern milieu, violent atmosphere, and loner characters. But this second novel fulfills none of that promise, settling instead for dismal posturing and imitative melodrama.