Don DeLillo Picador $145 Can the modern novel compete with the whizz-bang theatrics of the 21st century blockbuster movie? Think The Matrix Reloaded, in which the cameras retard a speeding bullet and give its intended target, Keanu Reeves, time to stroll around it. If anyone can compete with this degree of dazzle, it must be Don DeLillo. His sweeping, paranoid parables about the world's mightiest nation shimmer with ambition. Few authors other than Amis and Updike provoke so much expectation. DeLillo's latest, Cosmopolis, chronicles a day in the life of 28-year-old Eric Packer, an astoundingly rich asset manager and currency speculator equipped with two private lifts. The speakers in one belt out rap; in the other, Eric Satie's piano pieces at one-quarter normal speed for relaxation. The option of tender loving care comes in the shape of an heiress-cum-poet, Elise Shifrin, to whom Packer has been married for less than a month. She is a twentysomething 'with an etched delicacy of feature and large and artless eyes'. DeLillo fleshes out this description rhapsodically before, showing what an incisive stylist he is, he adds the rider that Shifrin's poetry lacks grace. Actually, the word he uses, aping Packer's perspective, is more earthy. Before the anti-hero climbs into his stretch-limo and begins an intriguingly mundane quest for a haircut, he hears good news. Arthur Rapp, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been assassinated. Better yet, his death was recorded live on The Money Channel, which sounds like a satirical concoction but actually exists. Packer watches the footage again and again, obsessively because he hates Rapp 'personally and chaotically, with sizable violence of heart'. The vision of the MD's 'pulpy face blowing outward in spasms of shock and pain' gives Packer a frisson of pleasure. As Rapp collapses, he drags down the interviewer - a lissom woman in a slit skirt. Packer is turned on. On his journey through the choked streets of the cosmopolitan metropolis, he stops off for lunch with his wife and bouts of sex with two women - his art consultant and his bodyguard. The predator is further slowed down by an anti-globalisation riot near Times Square and a funeral procession for a rap idol. Packer comes over as going nowhere, but with a vengeance. He and a henchman ruthlessly assault a protester who throws a pie. DeLillo's icy shyster recalls one of Martin Amis' least loveable inventions, John Self - the narrator in Money - or even Patrick Bateman, the lead in Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Naturally, like them, Packer must suffer. His nemesis, aptly and believably, is a psychotic who once had the misfortune to work for him. But what stops this novella from approaching the giddy immediacy of a cutting-edge Hollywood flick is the dialogue, which too often smacks of the author holding forth. 'Why do you want to kill me?' Packer asks in the retribution scene. 'I want to kill you in order to count for something in my own life,' his enemy says. Since when do murderers use such a cumbersome construction when on the brink of the act? Since when do they spell out their motivation with such insight and concision? True, DeLillo jazzes up the ending by playing tricks with perception and time but fails to redeem the dialogue. During another menacing episode - the riot - Packer's clairvoyant tells him not to worry if the protesters kill him. After all, if they do, it is only because 'you permit it, in your sweet sufferance, as a way to re-emphasise the idea we all live under'. Yeah, right. The protesters' chant also feels absurdly cooked up. 'A spectre is haunting the world,' they cry, apparently consumed with Gothic angst while smashing the cosmopolis to pieces.