Two short plays and 42 stories from Vachss, who's known for his eight novels (see below) featuring PIs who hunt down child abusers and sex offenders. Most of these could be sketches for his longer works, and a terse introduction bravely dismisses the question of whether or not this volume is literature -- rather, he explains, it's simply a necessary extension of his real job (Vachss is a lawyer who represents abused children). Aside from a few standard mini-thrillers with well-timed twists (e.g., ""It's A Hard World,"" about a man on the run from hired killers), the book proves that Vachss has exactly one subject -- avenging crimes against helpless victims (boys, girls, and animals). But he's got it covered. Although he experiments with different points of view (rapist, rape victim, prosecutor, mercenary killer), his characters tend toward a single personality profile: careful, quiet, and methodical. Reading these quickies in succession doesn't offer the sustained eeriness of his novels; in most stories, his vigilantes serve justice swiftly, then coolly disappear into the night, after getting off on their well-executed vengeance the way the rapists get off on hurting their prey. Many of the stories have the Vachss staples of buzz-cut sentences and pedagogy on criminal psychology, but the title story may be the most interesting -- because it raises the question potentially nagging at Vachss's readers. In the story, a killer writes in a catch-me-if-you can letter to a criminal psychologist named Doc: ""Serial killer chic has invaded human consciousness. Perhaps you should be studying that phenomenon instead of wasting your time trying to analyze me."" The relentlessness of this collection treads a thin line, because Vachss definitely has within him a perverse-chic sensibility. Read as a whole, the collection is drab and numbingly systematic -- but it's full of exquisitely rendered atmosphere and detail about a world we'd hate to inhabit. Still, what can you do with a thick pile of short stories that even the author claims aren't writerly?