Tibor Fischer, . . Counterpoint, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-297-7

A freelance designer's effort to collect a work debt turns into an unusual series of international adventures in Fischer's latest, a meandering, deadpan anti-epic with a fascinating female protagonist. Oceane is a former sex show performer turned designer, a brilliant, beautiful but reclusive woman who interacts with the world via an array of high-tech toys from her modern London apartment. As the novel begins, her comfortable existence is disturbed by a client who stiffs her on a bill and a letter from an old boyfriend named Walter who supposedly died a decade ago. To assist her in her quest to be paid and to find Walter, Oceane turns to Audley, the cheerfully sinister head of the Dun Waitin Debt Collection Agency. Audley, energetic and eager for unusual assignments, becomes Oceane's eyes and ears, toting devices that allow her to travel vicariously through him. As they set up this system, Oceane recalls life on the job at a sex club in Barcelona where she first met Walter, and Audley describes his failed attempt to sell his services as a mercenary in Zagreb. Finally, Audley travels to Micronesia to track down a missing letter from Walter. Fischer's episodic plotting will frustrate some readers, but his talents as a raconteur and a cynical observer of the absurd are considerable. Oceane's stoic eccentricity and her flair for the dramatic make her a worthy match for the fascinating cast of mostly male supporting characters, and her final realization—"the battle is always with yourself, but that doesn't preclude having an ally"—is curiously moving. 4-city author tour. (Jan.)

Forecast: Fischer has yet to match his Booker-shortlisted debut, Under the Frog (1994), but this is a big step up from his most recent story collection ( Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid, 2001) and should do much to boost his reputation.