BAIT by Kenneth Abel. (Delacorte: $19.95; 345 pp.) Everyone, for various reasons, is desperate to get close to ex-cop, Jack Walsh. The Massachusetts DA wants information, his staff member wants intimacy, Mafia boss Johnny D'Angelo wants Walsh's blood, and his No. 1 thug, Jimmy, wants to be the person to get it. There's an ex-wife who wants reassurance, and a shady ex-co-worker whose wants are purposefully unclear. All these dramatic and conflicting agendas make for an effective plot, yet "Bait," a thriller by Kenneth Abel, still manages for fall completely flat.
For starters, cardboard cutouts, is too generous a term for most of these characters. They are soggy, regurgitated cliches that were only marginally interesting 10 years ago. Dialogue such as, "Don't get me wrong, it's not the money, Johnny, I got money. . . . It's the lack of respect," is especially disappointing because probably anyone, including Abel himself, could do better. Another major problem is that none of these folks from Central Casting are particularly sympathetic. That would be fine if the writing were strong enough to carry one's interest, but most of the description in "Bait" is only adequate. Abel has a powerful and promising sense of story. Let's hope he develops a few quirks to give it resonance.