``Liquid flesh,'' cackles the homicidal lunatic at the climax of the moldy mystery film Dr. X--as if those two magic words could explain all the weird stuff we've just seen. The son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, in this first novel about the seedy detective son of a murdered movie-star mother, seems to have perfected a prose style consisting of nothing but such lines: new-minted phrases with the feel of instant clichÇs. ``Matrimonial detective'' R.J. Brooks ``never drew [his] weapon unless he meant to use it. But he never gave a crook an even break.'' An obliging cabbie named Akbar, speeding R.J. to a meeting with the cops who assume he killed Belle Fontaine, his stellar, distant mom, for her money, ``didn't speak much English, but he knew where the gas pedal was.'' R.J.'s nemesis, a chameleonlike actor Belle had once curtly dismissed, exults, ``The fools could never see beyond his face--couldn't see that the face they said was too bland was actually his greatest tool! The thing that made him great!'' In tracking down this maniac, R.J. has help from sexy TV producer Casey Wingate, as well as from his news-seller buddy Hookshot Steigler, and they spout nonstop balderdash too. Alert academics may find this as bracing a deconstruction of the private-eye novel as Who Is Teddy Villanova? or Dreaming of Babylon; psychoanalysts will have a field day considering the real-life relations between the author and his famous mother. Less professionally-minded readers are likely to find the whole thing a kettle of liquid flesh.