It's not only the ex-con hero of this lean and mean (and familiar) crime thriller who's a hard guy: first-novelist Elliott is himself doing life in a Tennessee state prison. Like his creator, Vietnam vet Glenn Odom met his downfall through armed robbery--and, in Glenn's case, smashing up his getaway car, as shown in the swift, crudely ironic opening (``Jesus, I'm caught,'' thinks Glenn. ``If it was raining pussies I'd get hit with a dick''). Unlike Elliott, though, Glenn gets out of the Nashville pen after five years, allowing him to go on a spree of wish-fulfilling sex and righteous slaughter. Flying to Memphis, he looks up his sociopathic ex-wife, Darleen, who's dumped him for a young punk; passes on her offer of a big burglary score; and digs out the $20,000 he'd stashed in her house. The next day, he strong-arms a welsher (``Blood sprayed from both sides of his head in a fine mist''), picking up another $20,000. That's stake enough to settle down on his old buddy Frank's pit-bull ranch while Frank does a spell for drug possession--and to bounce the mattress springs with Frank's sexy partner, Tina. Meanwhile, Darleen's gone ahead and ripped off evil local-county boss George Sherill of $300,000 and two implicating videotapes that keep the county's sheriff and top politico in Sherill's pocket. Darleen sends her punk boyfriend to ransom the tapes back to Sherill, which gets the punk killed and Darleen running for help to Glenn. A loyal sort, Glenn agrees to talk to Sherill, but the county boss now wants Darleen's blood, and then Glenn's--and when a bomb meant for Glenn blows up Tina, the ex-con goes hunting for Sherill with a twelve- gauge shotgun. You've met these reptiles and their super-macho mystique before, in Jim Thompson and Donald Goines, but Elliott draws them with knowledge and energy enough to make it fun to watch them slither.