After moderately effective side-trips into Riviera caper, crime (The Dangerous Edge) and rape-case psychology (Hands of a Stranger), Daley returns to a close-up focus on the New York Police Department at work. And though this slow-moving study of NYPD politics doesn't have the taut, visceral power of Daley's best fiction (Year of theDragon) or nonfiction (Prince of the City), it's steadily absorbing in its slightly meandering blend of Machiavellian maneuvers, contemporary issues (e.g., charges of police brutality and racism), and moody character-portraits. The hero here, noble yet a bit ambiguous, is young Phil Keefe, a prize-winning journalist who has recently become a Deputy Commissioner to the NYPD's progressive PC, Tim Egan. Ambitious, naively idealistic, Keefe dives head-first into his new job, annoying girlfriend Sharon (a bicoastal TV-soap producer) with his workaholic, midnight jaunts to dangerous police-action spots. He even does some independent sleuthing, pinpointing the center of an auto-theft operation--and, with media in tow, he personally leads a successful raid on the ""chop shop."" Unfortunately, however, among those rounded up in the raid is an innocent but unstable black truck-driver named Joshua Brown, who goes berserk at the courthouse, taking a cleaning-woman hostage. And, because most of the shrewd NYPD brass makes itself scarce, it's Keefe who winds up in charge of the crisis--and winds up shooting madman Brown dead in heroic self-defense. . .or maybe in foolhardy terror. In the ensuing proceedings, Keefe finds himself betrayed by one self. serving colleague after another; he's victimized by the press. He's soon bitter and isolated, alone except for Sharon and loyal Sgt. Rainey, a maverick, can-do veteran who's going through a messy, ultimately tragic midlife-crisis. So, to defend himself at trial, Keefe will need a ruthless lawyer, some dogged investigation, and all his powers of persuasion--appealing to the decency at the core of a few key NYPD biggies. Keefe is never as compelling or credible a half-hero as was the informer-cop of Prince of the City. Daley's loose-ended plot sometimes drifts uncertainly between documentary-like plainness and novelistic contrivance; the dialogue, often stiff, lacks Wambaugh's flavorsome zest. But connoisseurs of Police Plaza intrigue will find this another persuasive, disturbing scenario from a reliable source, laced with knowledgeable details and balanced insights.