AFTERSHOCK by Andrew Vachss
Andrew Vachss has started a new series with a couple of interesting characters that I want to learn more about. Dell, a former French Foreign Legionnaire/mercenary, is an interesting man. There’s a lot of information in the book on the Legionnaires and I was fascinated with the history that gets revealed in dribs and drabs, always at the right time. As to the core of the character, even though Dell’s true childhood is not revealed because he has amnesia, he’s essentially a riff off the Burke character, which is fine with me because I enjoyed Burke a lot during that series.
I don’t have as good a handle on Dolly, Dell’s significant other, though. She worked with Médecins Sands Frontiéres (nurses/doctors without borders) and has what is perceived to be a charming disposition that makes others open up to her. I don’t know what she does other than talk to the local teens that want to talk to her, grow a garden, and care for the local wildlife. She’s presented as a woman who fell in love with Dell and agreed to walk away from everything to begin life under a new name. I’m sure there’s a story there and Vachss will get around to it.
The set pieces at the beginning of the book establish Dell’s character as a hardcase. He kills deer hunters who get too close to his neighborhood, and blows up a local teen who’s experimenting with torture and who would have one day become a serial killer. I enjoyed those because that’s just Vachss sharpening his knives.
The meat of the story is really good, drawing inspiration from the headlines regarding school shootings. The thing that most drew me in, as Vachss intended, is the mystery of why a local girl who’s a sports hero/legend and who seems to be well-adjusted would walk up to one of the most popular guys in school and shoot him in the face. That part kept me turning pages and shifted the read into a rollercoaster of expectation.
Vachss pays off, but not quite in the way I’d anticipated. There are some definite curveballs in this novel, and the author throws them in there with an expert sense of timing.
Dell’s sojourn to get to the truth of the matter is awesome. I loved how he takes on the role of a private investigator and ferrets out all the hidden truths. I also like how he controls the lawyer assigned to MaryLou’s defense and changes that man as well. Dell comes across as mystical and all-knowing about events even though he claims to lack the insight and persuasion that Dolly has. So he’s kind of a superhero in this book, a jack of all trades, and I eagerly went along with that, but the writer in the back of my mind wanted to know where Dell got all this knowledge if he’s cut himself off from the world as much as he says he has. The line between ingénue and expert gets blurred in there.
I have to admit some disappointment in the closing act of the book, though. I’d been primed for an OK Corral type shootout at the end and the court performances just didn’t quite fill the bill. Vachss is obviously laying groundwork for things he wants people to think about, particularly how it isn’t just the victim or the victim’s parents who suffer when a wrong is done and the guilty are not punished. I think that was well done, but I also think that the action part of the story took a definite back seat and shouldn’t have.
The closing act is also too one-sided to a degree. At the trial, there’s no mention of the murdered boy’s parents in court to see that justice is done. There’s also no onscreen presence of the bad guys at the end of the book. I think either of those two parties would have been on the scene to further complicate matters.
I had a good time, and it’s obvious that Vachss has his team set up for the next book, provided this is the start of a new series, but I’m curious to know where he would go with it. There are plenty of unresolved issues in the two main characters to work on for a while.