How to follow a debut private eye novel as electrifying as Flood (1985)? Vachss chooses not to alter the ingredients; but in cooking up a new case--in the sleazy world of kiddie porn--for his down-and-dirty hero, Burke, he comes up with a half-baked sequel that tastes of warmed-up leftovers despite its many flavorful bits. Much of Flood's strength lay in the jolting originality of Burke and his bizarre N.Y. universe. In a sort of appetizer subplot occupying Strega's first third, Vachss revives the oddballs who peopled Flood and made it so memorable--Burke himself; Chinese karate master Max; Michelle, the transvestite whore; Mole, the junkyard king; etc. But the novelty is gone. Burke hasn't grown, and instead of expanding and enriching the supporting characters, Vachss uses them in functional ways, not boring but rarely enlightening: Max helps strong-arm the Peeping Tom; Michelle strip-searches a woman, etc. After his long setup, Vachss at last gets down to Burke's new case: he's hired by a witchy/bitchy Mafia princess--the Strega of the title--to retrieve a photo of her best friend's boy being molested. Burke's initial forays into the sordid world of child prostitution are suspenseful, violent, and leavened with charged creations equal to those in Flood: a band of ex-cons belonging to a neo-Nazi group; a child hooker, winsome and wan; a cultured, proudly self-proclaimed pederast. But less successful and more contrived are his strident love affair with Strega--an entanglement of mutual bondage, with Burke unconvincingly too often on the submissive end--and an awkward, noisy conclusion. By the time Burke confronts the leaders of the kiddie-porn ring, Vachss' efforts to surprise the reader have played their course, and things have descended to the level of an A-Team Operation. Strained, and a distinct cut below Flood; but still more exciting and evocative than most, and good enough to look forward with fingers crossed to the next in the series.