The recent installments in Vachss' series of novels featuring underground investigator and avenging angel Burke have almost become parodies of themselves, with our antihero devoting as much time to wallowing in the filth of urban life as cleaning it up. This time, though, there's a marked improvement. Burke seems healthier emotionally and more focused, and the novel itself is more of a mystery and less of a harangue. The action begins when Burke is approached by a female police officer, Belinda, who wants him to exonerate her lover, now serving time as a serial killer. Belinda contends that the real killer is still on the loose; her lover is a connected guy who probably deserves to be in prison, but he's no killer. So she says. She also pins the cover-up on Morales, a psycho cop with a desire to send Burke to prison for his role in the violent breakup of a child pornography ring. Burke employs his familiar Fagin's army of street types to discover the real killer and the real motives behind the crime. As always in Vachss' work, New York's underbelly is vividly evoked, and the tough-guy, side-of-the-mouth dialogue crackles with authenticity. The occasional rays of hope and humor that shine through the bleakness don't threaten the vintage noir mood, but they do make the proceedings a little easier for the beleaguered modern reader to bear.