A FLASH OF RED by Clay Harvey (G. P. Putnam's Sons: $22.95, 240 pp.). When Tyler Vance, an ex-military, gun-toting, macho family man, accidentally comes upon a bank robbery, the bad guys fire a steady torrent of bullets in his direction. They miss. Instead, Tyler kills two of the robbers with his .45. What he doesn't know is that the gunmen were an exceptionally close-knit bunch, and now they want revenge.

"A Flash of Red," Harvey's first novel, wouldn't be such a terrible book if it had at least a nodding acquaintance with reality. Instead, it is one long testosterone-driven fantasy. What is even more irritating is that every single character exists for the sole purpose of serving the protagonist's enormous ego. Tyler Vance's 4-year-old son fights off villains in a manner beyond most 10-year-olds. Vance's best friend is there, ostensibly to provide backup, yet Tyler never needs help. Rambo has nothing on this guy. If he were just indestructible, that would be bad enough, but Tyler is also vain, bossy and subtly racist.

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