Burke, the investigator/mercenary with a heart as cold as Mike Hammer’s .45, is hired to protect a serial killer from the cops. First, though, Vachss sets the stage by having the NYPD, responding to an anonymous tip, descend on Burke’s off-the-books apartment, just missing him but pulling in his partner, the Napoleon mastiff he calls Pansy. Rounding up the usual suspects—the Prof, Clarence, the Mole, deaf Max, and Crystal Beth—Burke liberates Pansy and a whole lot of other surprised dogs from an animal shelter. But the dancing turns to weeping when Crystal Beth, who’s let Burke crash in her shelter for abused women, is gunned down during a rally in Central Park, apparently the victim of a drive-by gay-basher. It’s a situation ripe for Burke’s uniquely individualistic approach to morality, but this time he doesn’t need to do anything, because an avenging vigilante has targeted gay-bashers. Identifying himself in his manifestos as “Homo Erectus,” this gay-rights Unabomber keeps stepping up his campaign. After his execution of a prominent pedophilia activist ignites a storm of protest, he goes into high gear with a campaign to separate homosexuals from the pedophiles seeking alliances with them to cover their exploitation of the young (presumably Vachss’s real axe to grind this time out), punctuating his jeremiads by bombing a pedophile junket to the Far East. Offered $50,000 by an interested client to bring in the killer so that he can be whisked out of the jurisdiction, Burke (Safe House, 1998, etc.) manages, with the help of a cybertracker, a self-styled lesbian dominant, and a blast from his own past, to trace the killer’s m.o. to a professional assassin named Wesley. Wesley’s been dead for years, though—or has he? If the prospect of an extended rhetorical duel between tougher-than-thou Burke and his worked-my-way-up-from-kidnaping-children quarry doesn’t get your juices flowing, you may want to sit this round out.