Smith, a veteran paperback pulper (a.k.a. Roy Le Beau), makes his hard-cover debut with a derivative but above-average N.Y.P.D. thriller: part murder-mystery, part cops vs. evil CIA-types, part police angst (with a female tilt) in the Wambaugh tradition. Classy prostitute Sally Gaither has been gruesomely killed, complete with evidence of kinky torture--and the case is assigned not to homicide but to a team from the ""Commissioner's Squad,"" a group of loners and losers usually assigned to ""special events, sensitives, errands, and ass kissing."" Heading the investigation, together with pal Tommy Nordone, is Ellie Klein (nÃ‰e Bowden), a divorcee now involved in a serious lesbian relationship, though still wistfully hopeful about heterosexual romance. So, while the sleuthing leads Ellie to intriguing encounters with Sally's closest connections (a swank Upper West Side therapist, a confused teen-age daughter, a black transsexual dying of AIDS), her own emotional life remains in tense disarray. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Ellie and Tommy, a ruthless trio of top-secret agents from Washington is shadowing the murder investigation--because among call-girl Sally's clients some years ago was. . .the current Vice President (whose tastes, recorded on tape, were decidedly kinky). And the D.C. agents' clumsy efforts to control the cops soon lead to a series of dreadful, unnecessary killings. Finally, then, Ellie--after nabbing Sally's pettily motivated murderer--will latch onto the trail of the monstrous D.C. hit-team mastermind, defying her bosses as the chase leads to a nifty showdown. Smith sometimes strains too hard in the psychological textures here, detailing not only Ellie's image-heavy daydreams (she's a would-be painter) but also each of her meals and trips to the bathroom. The near-cartoonish, Elmore Leonard-like doings of the D.C. killers don't quite mesh with the grimy realities everywhere else. But, if slightly bloated and ill-coordinated in its ambitions, this is a steadily engrossing and often oddly affecting blend of nasty action and tough/tender characterization--with sharply etched backgrounds that range from the back-rooms of Bloomingdale's to the meanest of city streets.