CHANCE. By Kem Nunn. Scribner. 320 pages. $26.

If you enjoy reading about dysfunctional people sitting on the railroad tracks as the train is coming, this book is for you.

San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance is basically a good guy, not because of any deeply held beliefs about right and wrong but because following the rules is generally easier and takes less energy. But now Chance's life has fallen apart, and he gets involved with a woman - first as a patient, then as more - whose life fell apart long ago. All the other characters' lives are in similar states of disrepair.

"Chance" is supposed to be a hard-boiled story set on the mean streets as Chance tries to save his patient/lover from her relationship with an abusive, corrupt cop. That part of award-winning author Kem Nunn's book is well-written and well-plotted.

However, this book is populated by such depressingly destructive and self-destructive characters that it's hard to care about any of them, even in fiction. Halfway through the book, many readers will be wishing the train would just hit all of them already.

Reviewer Carol Edwards is a freelance editor and farmer living in Marlboro County.