In November 2008, Andrew Vachss released Another Life, the final installment in one of the most hard-hitting and unusual series in the history of American detective fiction. Vachss’ shadowy protagonist, Burke, and his “family” made their final appearance in the author’s 18th book, much to the chagrin of readers who like their mysteries extra-hardboiled.
If you’re a detective fiction fan and you’ve never read Vachss, I envy you. You’re in for a treat, and you might as well start with the first of the 17-book series, Flood.
Burke is the ultimate New York shadow operator: a state-raised ex-con, a master scam artist, and the best man-hunter in the city. Good luck finding him, though. He lives below the radar in the city’s dark underbelly, and if you don’t have the right connections, you won’t even know he exists.
Flood is a baby-faced blonde with a killer body and murderous intentions. A martial-arts expert on a mission of vengeance, she comes to Burke with all the money she has in the world and a request: Find the monster who murdered a baby named Flower, so Flood can kill him with her deadly hands and feet. Burke, whose life has made him ultra-careful, is reluctant to help Flood, whose bull-in-a-china-shop approach threatens his cherished anonymity. But in the end they come down on the same side of the book’s main theme: Thou shalt not abuse a child.
Vachss has spent most of his life combating the abuse of children. He has seen up close the horrible things people are capable of doing to their young. His disgust for abusers is a common thread throughout the Burke series. Burke is the abandoned child of a prostitute (his first name, according to his birth certificate, is “Baby Boy”). Unwanted his whole life, abused by his foster caretakers, he is a hardened career criminal with a single weakness: abused children. You mess with a child, and you mess with Burke – and Burke is one dude you don’t want to mess with.
Flood doesn’t follow the standard detective fiction formula, which is a refreshing change in an overcrowded genre. Burke and Flood form an uneasy alliance and set after a child rapist who goes by the name of Cobra. The path to Cobra leads through the seamy side of New York City, but Burke moves through it with the ease of a shark in Atlantic waters.
Flood was originally published in 1985, so the material may seem a bit dated. But if you’re in the mood for a fast-moving, highly authentic piece of noir fiction, set a few hours aside, turn off your phone, and open Flood.