Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

TERMINAL by Andrew Vachss

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Andrew Vachss is one of my favorite tough-guy novelists. Generally, no one writes them meaner or leaner than Vachss. He’s got the inside track on a lot of sex crimes, particularly pedophilia and child-rape, which are special topics to him.When he’s not writing bestselling fiction about these two potentially stomach-turning subjects, he’s practicing law to save kids from these predators and put those predators away for ever. In some ways, in real life Vachss is an even larger hero than his iconic hijacker/gunman/profiler, Burke.

Vachss has been writing these novels since Flood was published in 1985, and I’ve been reading them since I found the paperback in 1986. Terminal, this year’s release, is the 17th in the series.

I love Burke. He’s a hardened criminal with no remorse in him for people he takes advantage of. He usually operates cons, selling information that’s no good or forgeries to people who intend to use it for evil pursuits. Burke justifies it, and I’ve always bought into his justification, though I wouldn’t do it myself. He was raised and mistreated by the State, in institutions as well as foster homes. He never had a chance and he knows it. He still doesn’t have one. So he lives his life in the shadows, and that provides a vicarious thrill that I haven’t gotten over even twenty-plus years later.

He’s also got a “family” of other people who were just as broken as he was, yet who refused to roll over and die. There’s Max the Silent, a deaf and dumb Mongolian martial arts master who is immediate death to anyone that he’s decided must die. The Prof is the black con man who taught Burke how to survive in prison, then on the streets. The Mole is a Jewish techno-wizard, a savant with anything electrical or explosive. Michelle is the ex-streetwalker transvestite who was surgically altered when she got the money together and serves as their social engineer. Wesley was the pistoleer of the group, and no one was more deadly with a firearm. Mama is the Chinese restaurant owner who’s always served as their bank and a place of operations.

Over the years, Burke and Vachss – and the readers – have added to that family. And, sadly, they’ve taken away.

With the publication of Terminal, Vachss has pushed his series into near-inaccessibility by new readers. The world Burke inhabits has just grown and gotten so large that newbies need a scorecard to keep up. Vachss tries to alleviate that problems with a lot of explaining and backtracking, but that effort gets in the way of long-time readers. I understand the characters and the world. I wanted the action to move a little faster in this book. I still enjoyed it a lot, but a lot of it was like having a good friend rework stories you’ve heard before. Still, I like the stories, so it’s not so bad.

However, the plot was a little late in launching and I became impatient at times. Vachss is still fun to read, though. But I’d really suggest reading the early ones first and doing some catch-up before tackling this one. That way you know who Clarence and Terry and Flower are.

In this book, Burke goes back to stalking the child molesters and killers in the shadows. Three men are guilty of raping and killing a girl over twenty years ago. One of their accomplices has come forward with a blackmail scheme. The sons of privileged families, they’ve all ascended into wealthy lifestyles.

Burke intends to blackmail them for the murder, make them pay financially, then with their lives. It’s what he does, and I’m one of his biggest fans.

The book takes a while to wind up to full speed, but it’s always a pleasure working the capers and the con with Burke. Vachss pulls you right into the middle of the action and explains how those operations work better than anyone else I’ve ever read. And he doesn’t flinch over the hard stuff like murder and torture either. He lays it out on the line. These books often aren’t for people with weak stomachs.

In addition to the Burke books, Vachss has also written standalones and graphic novels and comics. I really recommend his novels Shella and The Getaway Man to showcase some of his other writing.

Vachss is seriously THE crime writer you should be reading if you’re not.


One Response to “TERMINAL by Andrew Vachss”

  1. Hi, Mel! Andrew Vachss’s next novel–the eighteenth and *last* Burke novel–is shipping the end of this month, and I’m trying to get word out to all those folks who were around for the beginning, and might want to see how it all ends. I see from your blog that you’ve read some of the Burke novels, so … maybe you’ll want to check out ANOTHER LIFE. Book description below, and anyone who has a question for Andrew can get it answered live on camera during his upcoming webcast. More info at vachss dot com.


    Lou Bank
    Ten Angry Pitbulls

    Another Life is the end of a journey that began with Flood, Andrew Vachss’ first novel featuring career criminal Burke and his Family of Choice. “I didn’t set out to write a series. Who but a terminal narcissist would?” the author says of his 1985 debut. But twenty-three years–and seventeen Burke novels–later, Andrew Vachss is finally bringing down the curtain on a series that has been described as “urban nightmares” by Publishers Weekly, and “strong, gritty, gut-bucket stuff” by the Chicago Tribune. Anyone who has felt a part of the family that includes recurring series characters Max, the Mole, Michelle, the Prof, Terry, Clarence, and Mama–characters the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says “are as sharply defined as if they were etched in steel”–will want to be there for the end of the journey, as best-selling, award- winning author Andrew Vachss ties up the loose ends, and sends his Family of Choice off to … Another Life.

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