TWO CONTRACT KILLERS (Charley is mob, Irene is free-lance) meet, fall in love, marry, and, though still in love, end up gunning for each other. And because Condon has given each of these characters a few homey attributes, we are expected to care. Charley Partanna, for instance, has a cooking and cleaning fetish. This is supposed to endear him to us, despite the fact that he goes for the slow kill, described in lavish detail. We're to laugh while his wife, plotting kidnapping and murder, at the same time dazzles as a hostess. And we should guffaw when Charley doesn't want her in on the job: "Listen--wait a minute--I didn't get married so my wife could keep working."

This is just the fratellanza version of a shopworn theme. Opposing spies and warring terrorists have done it; why not a charming couple from "the environment"?

But that's not my biggest gripe. My biggest gripe is Condon's very bad writing, particularly in the opening. It's as though he's straining to be poetic and none of it works. Let's take, for example, the second paragraph of the book:

"The church was dressed with sensual shafts of light and the fur of holy music. Don Corrado Prizzi . . . was asleep, but even in repose his face was as subtly distorted and burnished as that of a giant crown of thorns starfish predator. Every few moments both small, sharp eyes, as merry as ice cubes, would open, make a reading, then close again."

Got that? Fur of holy music? Distorted and burnished as what? Merry as ice cubes?

Is there anything good about this book? Yes. The descriptions of the meals these people eat. This is Condon's 20th novel. Next time out, let's hope he writes a cookbook.