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Fictional private eyes tend to mete out their own rough justice when official justice is stymied. For proof, try some of the 14 short stories in "P.I. Files."

A standout example is Buffalo native Lawrence Block's devilishly clever "By the Dawn's Early Light." Here the author's boozing ex-NYPD cop Matt Scudder makes sure that an acquitted friend he has helped to escape a murder charge -- in a mistaken belief the friend is innocent -- doesn't get away with the crime. Scudder takes matters into his own hands when he discovers how he has been manipulated into helping the friend eliminate witnesses who could have helped to prove his guilt.

Matt Scudder may not be coming down on the side of the letter of the law, but deep in his own conscience, he's coming down on the side of the angels -- the avenging ones, that is.

P.I. Files. Ivy Paperback. 260 pages, $3.95.

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