On the heels of Nancy Taylor Rosenberg's Mitigating Circumstances (1992) comes this second thriller about a female vigilante. But where Rosenberg's potboiler had the courage of its bloody convictions, Holzer's talky tale straddles a moral fence. Holzer (Double Crossing, 1983) starts strongly, with a nerve- jangling third-person description of the motivating crime—the rape/murder of a woman by a band of Bronx predators—as it's heard over the phone by the victim's mother, Karen Newman, 46, a Gotham p.r. exec. The rest of the story, except an epilogue, is told by Karen and quickly slides into melodrama as her daughter's grieving husband kills himself and his little girl, motivating Karen to respond favorably to overtures by the man who pressed a card reading ``Victims Anonymous'' (VA) into her hands at her daughter's graveside. He, known as ``Kagan,'' introduces Karen to a nationwide network of crime victims and recruits her to do p.r. for the network and its secret core, which pursues vengeance against criminals and permissive judges. For her initiation, Karen must confront the punk who killed her daughter; she shoots him dead, but only—typical of Holzer's hedging—after he grabs a knife and tries to stab James Coyne, creator of VA. The ensuing narrative hosts much chat about the morality and strategy of vigilantism, punched up by romance—platonic between Karen and Coyne, erotic between Karen and an FBI agent whom she's assigned to woo in order to track the Bureau's investigation of VA. But when Karen learns the extent of Kagan's fanaticism, she turns tail and starts life anew—though not before some violent deaths and a few cheers for the ``little people'' willing to strike back against criminals—albeit legally. Moderately involving, with an intriguing heroine; but far- fetched, slow-paced, preachy, and confused about its moral stance: for all its manipulations, the Rosenberg remains a more exciting- -and honest—read.
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