(Reviewed by Guy Savage FEB 14, 2009)
“I ordered a shot—nobody does brand names in a joint like this. The inbred blinked a couple of times, then brought me some brown liquid. He stared at me for a minute. You could see his mind working—it wasn’t a pretty sight. Finally, enough tumblers fell into place. He reached under the bar and came up with a glass the EPA wouldn’t allow you to dump without a permit.”
Author and attorney Andrew Vachss is a man with a mission. And he’s a busy, accomplished man--just take a look at his website, THE ZERO. Terminal is Vachss’ seventeenth novel featuring his hero of sorts--Burke--a man who operates outside to law to correct injustices that the law cannot address. In Terminal, Burke is contacted by Claw, a dying member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a man who holds the key to a hideous crime committed years before. The men responsible for the gang rape and brutal death of a thirteen-year-old girl are all now wealthy, powerful men in their fifties. Claw needs money--big money to seek experimental treatment at a clinic in Switzerland, so he turns to Burke to help squeeze 3 million from those guilty of the decades-old crime. And Burke goes along for the ride….
Vachss began his Burke series in 1985. Novel eighteen, Another Life: The Final Burke was published December 2008. If you are new to the Burke novels, then begin somewhere else. Terminal expects the reader to have at least a good idea who Burke is and what he is about. Terminal may be a Burke story, but the novel also offers insight into prison life as well as biting social commentary ranging from the Iraq War, the blighted presidency, the failure of the "justice" system, and American society’s fixation on viewing children as "property."
Terminal is fast-paced, terse, loaded with hard-boiled one-liners and is certain to please fans of this highly popular series. For those who don’t know Burke yet--Burke lives (and I use the term loosely) in New York:
“Going back home to New York is like going back to an old girlfriend just because you remembered how great the sex had been. The minute you come, you remember all the reasons you’d decided to go the last time.”
One chapter describes the various gigs Burke has played in which he “always specialized in fleecing the kind of humans who couldn’t run to the Law.” Since Burke moves in New York’s netherworld of crime--perverts, crooks and freaks, this is relentlessly bleak stuff. Burke’s world is an ugly place, and he survives with a pack--an ad-hoc family, if you will--of like-minded individuals: The Prof, Mole, Michelle, deaf-mute Max, and Mama. Think of Burke as some sort of super-hero (without the superhuman powers) who moves in the slime of New York City, and there you have Burke in a nutshell.
- Amazon readers rating: from 37 reviews
Read an excerpt from Terminal at the author's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)
Andre Vachss' Blue Belle is the third Burke novel in the series and the third that I've read. All three books are excellent, but Burke, the man, and the strange folks who people his world and call him" friend" are what keeps me a faithful fan. They are my focus, whatever the plot. And the plots are good, fast-paced and riveting. However, it is this far-out group of characters that has me hooked on the series. Burke is as complex a figure as they come, and he grows, evolves and changes with each book. I have never encountered anyone quite like him before in fiction. He is a hard-boiled, in-your-face, ex-con detective, who still isn't sure on which side of the law he prefers to operate. A survivor, at all cost, he is also a stand-up guy. Vachss delves more into Burke's past in this book, revealing more about his various prison stints and what he learned there. Fascinating stuff. If you are a Vachss/Burke fan, or become one, I would suggest that you try to read the books in order - at least the first 3 or 4. Of course, every novel stands on its own, independent of the others, but the character's development is continual. There are also references to past events, and for a richer reading experience it is helpful to know the history. If you're just looking for a good read, and not interested in becoming a Burke maven, then by all means, read at random.
Blue Belle is one hard-hitting novel, reminiscent of crime fiction in the 1940s and 50s, though much more disturbing. Burke, as always, is our narrator. Everything and everyone comes under his cynical, seen-it-all scrutiny. I have never learned more about the underworld and the seamier side of life, the one most people rarely observe, than through the author's narrative. Burke's expert eyes take in details of life on the street that mine never would. His gritty urban world is one where "citizens" dwell side-by-side with "maggots."
A "ghost van" is terrorizing New York City's prostitutes. A gang of fiends, traveling in a big, smoke-colored van, are brutally murdering teen streetwalkers, young girls, only thirteen and fourteen years-old. A group of pimps put together a war chest and hire Burke to take the van off the streets. Pimps are, after all, businessmen, and lost merchandise and declining profits are bad for business. When the Prophet, a friend, mentor and "colleague" of Burke's, "scopes the scene" for information concerning these killers, he encounters a psychopathic martial arts freak by the name of Mortay, ("muerte"). As a result, the Prof winds up in St. Vincent's Hospital with two broken legs and in a world of hurt. Mortay has been hitting the city's dojo's and challenging each sensei to a death match. He will not allow anyone to walk away, and has killed everyone he has forced to fight him. He gave the Prof a message. He wants to fight Max The Silent, a mute, 20th century Mongolian warrior who calls Burke "brother." Max and his woman have just had a baby daughter, whose life Mortay threatens if Max refuses to accept the challenge. Burke senses a connection between the van and Mortay. He just has to find out what it is and how to eliminate both problems....while protecting his brother's family. Grim.
New developments occur in this novel which will have a long term effect on our protagonist. Burke has a lifetime history of living a loner's existence. Belle, "a big sweet-smelling girl with a snake tattoo on her thigh" meets our man to set up an initial appointment with Marques, the pimp. Burke and Belle act on a mutual attraction, which then begins to grow into a relationship. She is a voluptuous exotic dancer, a superb getaway-car driver, and she loves our man. Her past is dark. So what else is new?
The usual suspects are all present, including: Max the Silent, now a father, who "makes his living as a courier, moving things around the city for a price. His collateral is his life;" Pansy is a warrior of another species - she's a Neapolitan mastiff, just like the kind that came over the Alps with Hannibal; the Mole, a pasty-faced genius who lives in a bunker beneath a high-tech junkyard; the Prophet, a scam artist who speaks in rhyme; Mama Wong, group doyenne - a Chinese Jewish mother and restaurateur, "keeps her prices high and the ambiance foul to discourage yuppies." She cares for the gang, takes Burke's messages and holds his stash; Michelle, a gorgeous transvestite who is about ready to go to Denmark for a life-changing operation; I should add here that our hero drives a souped-up Plymouth, another important character. It usually looks like it's been painted with rust. That's the fresh coat of primer it almost always sports - "the Mole makes sure to change the car's color after it is used on a job."
Mr. Vachss' writing is bleak, gritty, disquieting. His chapters have gotten shorter, his prose choppier - it adds to the ambiance. The author is a lawyer, who specialized in prosecuting child abuse cases. He has worked as a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a caseworker in New York, and managed a maximum-security prison for violent juvenile offenders. Vachss calls the child protective movement "a war," and considers his writing as powerful a weapon as his litigation. He openly admits that he writes about the abuse of children because he wants to raise people's awareness of what's going on, and he'll reach a wider audience with fiction.
Blue Belle's grittiness may not be for everyone, but it is one fantastic novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 24 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Flood (1985)
- Strega (1996)
- Blue Belle (1988)
- Hard Candy (1990)
- Blossom (1990)
- Sacrifice (1991)
- Down in Zero (1994)
- Footsteps of the Hawk (1995)
- False Allegations (1996)
- Safe House (1998)
- Choice of Evil (1999)
- Dead and Gone (2000)
- Pain Management (2001)
- Only Child (2002)
- Down Here (April 2004)
- Mask Market (August 2006)
- Terminal (September 2007)
- Another Life: The Final Burke (December 2008)
- A Bomb Built in Hell (1973)
- Shella (1993)
- Another Chance to Get it Right: A Children's Book for Adults (1993; 2003 3rd edition)
- Born Bad: Collected Stories (1994)
- Everybody Pays: Stories (1999)
- The Getaway Man (2003)
- Two Trains Running (June 2005)
- Haiku (November 2009)
- The Weight (November 2010)
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- Official website for Andrew Vachss
- Wikipedia page on Andrew Vachss
- Read an excerpt from Only Child at MostlyFiction.com
- Rambles review of Only Child
- Read an excerpt from Down Here
- Rambles review of Down Here
- BookReporter.com review of Down Here
- Official website for Two Trains Running
- Bookslut interview on Two Trains Running
- BlogCritics review of Mask Market
- Writers are Readers review of Terminal
- BlogCritics review of Terminal
- MostlyFiction.com review of Haiku
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About the Author:
Andrew Vachss (rhymes with "ax" or "tax") was born in 1942 and raised in New York City.
Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social services caseworker, and a labor organizer and has directed a maximum-security prison for youthful offenders. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively.
He is the author of numerous novels, including the Burke series, two collections of short stories, and a wide variety of other material including song lyrics, graphic novels, and a "children's book for adults." His books have been translated into twenty languages and have won The Gran Prix de Litterature Policiere (France), The Falcon Award (Japan), The Deutschen Krimi Preis (Germany), and The Raymond Chandler Award (Italy). His work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, The New York Times, Playboy, and numerous other forums.
A native New Yorker, he now divides his time between New York City and the Pacific Northwest.