May 06, 2002 12:00 PM

By John Scott Shepherd

Henry Chase is a bad, bad man. Blame his senior prom. Rebuffed by Ms. Perfect on the big night, the sensitive boy chooses a career in destruction. College buddies, business partners and married women fall prey to the wicked deeds of horrible Hank, nicknamed the Assassin at his investment firm, where he gleefully humiliates subordinates. Ah, but wait. Cue the inevitable moment of enlightenment, that magic scene when Wall Street becomes It’s a Wonderful Life: Henry realizes he must right his wrongs to save his soul.

Unfortunately, Henry is hard to care about before or after his epiphany. Shepherd, a hot screenwriter who has sold seven scripts and this first novel to Hollywood, aims to be smart-alecky with a message, but the moral drowns in a puddle of sap and only the stilted dialogue is laughable. “I want you to know the devil’s a used car salesman,” Henry says, “and you never get blue book for your soul.” Yeah, people talk like that. Put it this way: If Henry wrote this book, he’d have to add it to his hit list. (Rugged Land, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Shallow Hal

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