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Friday, July 27, 2012

Andrew Vachss and Burke - Best Series Ever

Blue Belle by Andrew VachssFlood by Andrew VachssStrega by Andrew Vachss

Andrew Vachss has been my favorite writer for many years now. In my opinion, his Burke series is the single best series ever written. I've read them all two or three times and will probably read them two or three more times though re-reading books is not something I often do.

I have some authors to whom I've been faithful for decades, such as Ed McBain. I think I own all the 87th Precinct novels. Those are also books I can pick up any time and enjoy again. The cops of the 87th Precinct are like old friends it is always a pleasure to meet up with.

Now and then, someone comes along who I think may at least equal Vachss in my regard. For a while, I was hooked on Iain Banks (mainstream novels) a.k.a. Iain M Banks (The Culture - science fiction). Banks single-handedly brought me along to science fiction, a genre I had scorned before. I still faithfully buy his books as soon as they are released.

And lately, I've been enthralled with the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon. The sweep of history contained within her monster novels is enthralling as it affects some of the most beloved characters you will find in fiction. If Jamie Fraser can't win your heart, it can't be won.

Ah, but then there is Andrew Vachss and however much I may love the others, he always ends up at the very top of my list. The self-defined family in the Burke series are absolutely unique, starting with Burke himself. They are a band of outcasts and outlaws, convicts and thieves, who've joined forces to survive childhoods that made them the victims of the predators society so often turns a blind eye to recognizing when children are involved - pedophile foster parents and sadistic institutional guards, baby-rapers and pornographers and parents who double as pimps, cops and courts that label them bad rather than abused. They have been way too twisted to ever qualify as  "citizens" so they live on the gritty outer edge of civilization and wreak their own brand of vengeance. They see The State that failed them and the lowlifes that used them as two sides of the same coin and happily do their marauding on either side of the fence. They are out-numbered and out-resourced but they are rarely out-smarted.

Burke, the ring-leader, learned early on to forge his childhood fear into rage but his is an emotion that thrives in ice water rather than fire. There is Mama, who owns the Chinese restaurant that is their home base and the Mongol, Max the Silent, who can kill with his hands before his prey knows he is there. There is Michelle the beautiful transgendered prostitute and The Mole, the genius who lives in a junkyard. There is the Professor, the tiny Black thief who tutored them all in rhyme, and his adopted son, Clarence, the handsome Jamaican who loves his threads and his car but his gun most of all. And there are Burke's women and his dogs. And there is Wesley, whose childhood formed him into a ghostly killing machine, one that even Burke can't reach.

To society, the family doesn't exist. They live without authentication - their documentation is all fake - driver's licences and deeds, utility bills and auto registrations. They live, as they call it, Down in the Zero.

I eagerly turned a friend onto Andrew Vachss. I forget which book I picked out for her to read but she gave it back saying, "I couldn't finish it - too dark and grim and brutal for me." This was a critique Andrew Vachss heard often before he found a publisher. But Vachss doesn't write simply from imagination. He was a welfare caseworker and is now an attorney specializing in children's cases. He knows whereof he speaks. He knows who and what perverts an innocent child into a killer and how most of us choose to turn our heads and look away. Witness the Catholic Church, Penn State and the countless children who fall through the cracks in every city and state.

Many who are harmed simply lose some essential piece of themselves. Andrew Vachss' books are about the kids who grow up and join forces to fight back.

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