The seventh volume in Newman's Precinct series is his first in hardcover, and he's earned it. This gripping New York City cop drama, featuring Detective Lieutenant Joe Dante, has all the raw naturalism of a good Sidney Lumet movie. The plot slams the reader with a sucker-punch upfront. A star pitcher for the Kansas City Royals is found dead of a heroin overdose the day he's favored to beat the Yankees in the final game of the American League championship series, and almost everyone, including the investigating officer, is ready to believe that Willie Cintron is just another young barrio boy destroyed by wealth and fame. But Barry Zajac, a Daily News sportswriter who has nurtured Willie since his high school days in Washington Heights, refuses to be so cynical. When smooth and handsome Detective Dante comes on the scene, he investigates every angle. Was the killer a high-roller from Long Island with too much at stake on the game? A loyal wife preventing Willie from testifying against her husband? A lowlife cousin from the ghetto who's in deep with Chinese drug dealers? Willie's slick agent? Or the even slicker young sales exec from the network that paid millions for the World Series? Newman juggles these plot twists and misleads readers with great skill, even if he occasionally overreaches--for instance by letting Dante inadvertently break up a huge arm of the Colombian drug cartel. The bloodletting is nasty and brutish and accompanied by lots of hard- boiled humor, all of it appropriate to the sociopaths who slither through these pages. At first the novel makes too many concessions to out-of- towners (opening chapters read as if written for Martians), but Newman eventually settles into a high-pitched groove: fast and strictly hardball.