If you have never read a Burke novel before, you will be asking yourself “Why?” You will feel cheated and immediately feel obliged to track down all the other novels in this series and devour them whole. This book is indeed that good, crime noir at its best. It will shock you, move you, and most of all entertain you.
This book is the sixteenth in the Burke series but is very easy for the uninitiated to follow. Indeed, while searching the Internet to find out more about Vachss, I came across a few regular readers who say this is the ideal book for Burke first-timers as Vachss does a great job of bringing the reader up to date with Burke’s past. Burke does some introspective thinking in this novel, apparently not common in other books in the series, making this very accessible to first time readers.
The plot involves a meeting with a potential client gone wrong. A man hands Burke a CD and claims he needs someone found. When he heads to his car to get payment for Burke, he is shot down. Burke is worried he may have been noticed and could be dead next. He is also intrigued when the missing person turns out to be a woman Burke was hired to find twenty years earlier.
Burke decides to take the case without payment, concerned for himself but also for the long ago lost Beryl. Burke questions whether his decision to return her, no questions asked, to her family for rather non-philanthropic reasons was indeed the right thing to do. Why is she being sought? Is she in some sort of trouble?
Taking a non-paying job seems to be a departure for Burke. However, he has spent his life helping abused kids and women, and the real possibility that maybe Beryl was being abused all those years ago eats at Burke.
Burke is neither a conventional PI nor crime book protagonist. He is a career criminal capable of killing who only shows his true self to his “family”, a motley group of people who have tied themselves to him over the years. He uses one of many false identities even for his girlfriend, the sassy tart with a heart, Loyal. Burke is damaged, raw, confrontational and brutal, yet he uses his dubious scruples to save those most in need. He is complex and an enigma, a character who will get under your skin.
Andrew Vachss could be considered nonconventional also. He is a gifted writer, author of sixteen Burke novels as well as the acclaimed Two Trains Running and has written nonfiction articles, short stories, and a text book. His achievements include winning The Falcon Award in 1988
and the Raymond Chandler Award. Vachss is an amazing man who dedicates his own time to saving abused children. His campaigning has led to changes in legislation, and he continues to work tirelessly to stop child abuse and child pornography. A fabulous writer and advocate, he uses his novels to transform his experience into something accessible to all. He uses the art form of great fiction writing to examine the cruel, sadistic and disturbing crimes that are committed against children in our so-called civilized society. He is an attorney and dog lover who has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social services caseworker, and a labor organizer. He also directed a maximum security prison for "aggressive-violent" youth.
There is plenty in this book for all crime lovers. Burke will become a favorite character, despite his tendency toward the other side of the law. His self-made family is a remarkable mix of people abandoned by society who form a group of misfits who stick together; their only loyalties are to each other.
From his sister, a post-op transsexual, to the old Chinese lady everyone calls Mama, the characters in this story are real, raw and pulsating with energy. Few could not be moved by the snippets we see through Burke’s eyes of his sister’s past or the story of the boy she took on as her son.
The crime noir genre has many adepts; many are similar in their exposure of the underbelly of society few of us would want to read about could we not allow ourselves the comfort that we are reading fiction. Few writers, however, would be so vehemently attached to the cause as Vachss. There are plenty of good writers I could compare him to - the first to mind is James Ellroy - and I can say Vachss and Ellroy in the same sentence without offending either.
But no comparisons are needed. If you like your crime on the edge and to be held fast in your seat, then all you need to know is that Vachss will deliver.
This book has all the elements of a good crime novel: suspense and mystery combined with gritty characters and moments where you will question your own beliefs and understanding of the world.
Remember, there are fifteen other books in this series, so there is plenty of Burke to last you for a quite a while. You will need them.