From the first lines of Peter Plate’s latest novel, it’s clear that his protagonist, Robert Grogan, is in for a rough Christmas. After a three-year stint in San Quentin, Grogan leaves cellmate and lover Slatts Calhoun behind and returns home to a wife and daughter who can’t trust him. Just days later, when Calhoun shows up on Robert’s doorstep, the ex-con’s dreams of freedom and reform predictably begin to crumble. Plate ratchets up the narrative tension with foreboding descriptions of San Francisco’s junkie subculture, but too often his prose and dialogue seem so fatuously noir that they’re distracting rather than enriching. Robert’s wife calls him “daddy”; the divorce attorney is a “shyster”; a hawk tears a pigeon “to shreds”; and Robert, ever the Californian, calls everyone “dude.” While Plate’s novel admirably creates a rich, risky version of San Francisco and an intricate vocabulary for itself, the cultural and aesthetic baggage that comes with this kind of crime fiction weighs down what is ultimately an entertaining, twisted and melancholic story of a man and his family.