At the end of a wake that opens this first novel, the dead man's son, David, and the narrator, Nicky DeMaio, make a final, irreverent homage: they filch the ashes, funnel them into a Jack Daniels bottle and drop them into the Colorado River. The dead man is Bundy McKay, one-legged whitewater boatman and legendary "King of the Colorado." As Nicky flashes back 10 years to his first trip through the Grand Canyon, we learn that Bundy is also an irascible, womanizing drunk who bullies the passengers and crew, especially his near-saintly son. On this first trip there are hair-raising rapids, a sudden death on the water and a climactic, near-fatal accident that finally draws Bundy and David together. The book has plenty of river lore and Grand Canyon descriptions, but the characters are not memorable. The biggest problem is Bundy, who seems to have no redeeming social value until he makes peace with his son. Left unexplained is why Nicky, Stanford grad student and jazz musician, spends a decade working for such a man.