“The explosion sucked all the air out of the room in its wake. Dimitri slammed back into the wall, gut-shot. I …took a deep breath and walked around to where Dimitri lay on the floor. He looked dead. I put three rounds into his face. His head bounced on the floor. When it came to rest, his brains were outside his skull.” (Dead And Gone)
Although the 18 titles in the Burke series by Andrew Vachss tail off in impact towards the later novels, the intensity of earlier books such as ‘Flood’, ‘Blue Belle’ and ‘Down In The Zero’ gives them a visceral kick that still shocks today.
Critics of the series might argue that Burke and his companions never evolve beyond stereotypes (Vachss has also written several graphic novels and comic books). But the development of the characters was never the purpose of the books.
Burke, an ex-con, has placed himself firmly outside society and the law, surviving by whatever means he can, aided by his crime ‘family’. They are the only people he trusts – the lethal Max the Silent, Michelle the transgender ex-prostitute, the explosives expert the Mole, and the street-wise Professor.
A victim himself, Burke has one over-riding obsession, to avenge the victims of child abuse and to punish their predators, as brutally and finally as possible.
The New York Vachss paints is one he knows well, its grimy alleys, seedy bars and malevolent underworld, where morality and compassion have no place.
Burke’s obsession is one Vachss shares: for many years he worked as a lawyer for the victims of childhood abuse, often sexual.
His books are a scream of rage against a society that allows such horrors as child abuse.
And whatever Burke’s actions, there is no doubt about whose side Vachss – and the reader – is on.
Andrew Vachss died November 23, 2021. He had been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, a labour organizer, and had directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. A lawyer in private practice, he represented children and youth exclusively, using the royalties from his books to support his practice.
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