A young probation officer finds his shining ideals tarnished by a psychotic felon--in an unwieldy but joltingly urban- authentic crime thriller awash in liberal sentiment. Blauner is a contributing editor for New York magazine covering crime and politics, and that experience surfaces brightly in his pages' trim prose and street savvy, as does the half year he reportedly spent at the New York Dept. of Probation researching this first novel. His hero is probation officer Steven Baum, closing in on 30 but, unlike his colleagues, not yet burned out by the pathetic cast of malefactors tramping into his office each day. In the first person, Baum tells of his staggering caseload, his daily routine, his dumpy apartment, his Sixties-ish ideals, his appointment to a field position that means carrying a gun, his strained relationship with his racist and bitter Holocaust-survivor dad, his checkered love life, etc.: it's another moderately interesting tale of modern city woe, rather slow and self-indulgent. More gripping are the intercut third-person chapters: the pleasingly ironic, though nearly plot- extraneous, attempt by a corrupt municipal powerbroker to get back in the game after serving time; and, central to the plot, the scary antics--mayhem, robbery, murder--of Baum's new charge, young crack-addict/dealer Darryl King. It's King who smashes Baum's ideals as the sociopath not only mocks Baum's heartfelt help, but answers it with escalating violence that explodes in a shootout that leaves several cops dead. In a theatrical, extended conclusion, King, who's become an outlaw hero to the city's blacks, takes Baum hostage; the probation officer finds himself returning King's hate with hate--he's become his father at last. Richly observed characters and the seething lifeblood of the city glisten through the story's heavy moral glaze. A flawed but powerful debut, then, from a writer to watch.