From an NYPD detective: a first novel that starts out strong, as a gritty police-procedural, but winds up shaky--as a farfetched (if basically familiar) tale of conspiracy and coverup. Caunitz's hero is Det. Lt. Dan Malone of the downtown Fifth Precinct, who becomes determined to solve the brutal, grisly murder of young Sara Eisinger--an Israeli-born travel agent. And soon Malone--with a little help from the Mafia and the Church--has a large assortment of leads and clues: the key to an exclusive Manhattan sex-club (frequented by Sara's travel-bureau bosses); a secret list of warehouses around the country, containing arms for Israel (the shady doings of Sara's former, super-Zionist employer); a list of numbers in Sara's address book, suggesting a CIA connection; the suicide of a US Army officer; a crucial witness, saved by the cops from a sex-club beating, who then perishes in a highway bombing. But, instead of being pleased, Malone's higher-ups seem annoyed by his progress with the case. Eventually he's even ordered to put it on the back burner, supposedly because he has stumbled into matters involving national security--a secret anti-terrorist unit, it seems. Malone is unconvinced, however, defying two Police Department biggies: he suspects (and the reader knows) that evil forces--greedy/psycho cops, a fanatic rightwing politician--have been using that secret unit for their own foul purposes (including a plan to foment anarchy). So there's a violent Pulaski Bridge showdown between Malone and the psycho-cops. . . though it will require a Mafioso epilogue to bring justice to the prime villain. First-novelist Caunitz is best by far when sticking to relatively everyday detective details, with sardonic comments on the changing NYPD. Less compelling, however, are his largely extraneous vignettes of police sex-lives--which often read like watered-down Joseph Wambaugh. And weakest of all is his convoluted conspiracy-plot, an over-busy (and over-extended) grab-bag of derivative plot-notions. Still, with unpretentious prose and strong, textured atmosphere, this is a readable, rough police-thriller even when it goes astray; a solid debut, then, and certainly a promising one.