Andrew Vachss's previous novel, Dead and Gone, prompted the Rocky Mountain News to say, "Starting a Vachss novel is like putting a vial of nitroglycerine into your pocket and going for a jog." With his latest thriller, Vachss turns the heat up a notch by dropping his career criminal and ultimate urban survivalist, Burke, in the middle of some of the most dangerously determined humans he has ever faced.
Fans of the Burke series who cheered the author's sudden relocation of his surly protagonist to the Pacific Northwest in Dead and Gone (2000) will be pleased by this latest installment. Burke, the sociopath ex-con with a reputation for hunting down "freaks" with an appetite for children, lands a new job combing Portland's seamy underbelly for a runaway teenager. Cut off from the members of the outlaw New York "family" who graced his earlier adventures, Vachss's postmodern Robin Hood continues to develop his web of West Coast contacts. A tip from his new lady love, Gem (who managed to survive the previous book when Burke himself nearly did not), leads the mauled Burke into a labyrinth of prostitution, deception and murder. Besides dealing with the oddities in the runaway's family, Burke must divine the motives of a cop chasing a serial killer preying on prostitutes, a stylish pimp with a long and dangerous reach, and a crusader against pain (or is she just a drug runner ) for whose mission the book is named. Providing clues as always through stepped-on snatches of dialogue, here Vachss finally lets his secondary characters speak for themselves, as opposed to being wholly defined by Burke's inner growl. While the dark worlds through which Burke journeys are not for the squeamish (Vachss draws upon his own experiences as an attorney for abused children), the author has managed to keep his violent series alive and vigorously kicking. 40,000 first printing. (Sept.) Forecast: Vachss's ultra-loyal readers seem unfazed by Burke's retreat from New York, and can be reliably expected to flock to this latest tale of the hard-boiled semi-hero's adventures. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 07, 2002
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Excerpt from Pain Management by Andrew Vachss
The first time you end up Inside, you think serving your sentence is going to take forever. But soon you learn: no matter how much time you have to do, some parts of it never take long. The Aryan clenched his fists, glancing down at his cartoon-huge forearms as if to reassure himself all that cable-tendoned muscle was real. He was on the downside of steroid burnout, dazed and dangerous.
The Latino wouldn't know a kata from the Koran, but he was an idiot savant of violence, with the kinetic intelligence of a pit bull.
They faced each other in a far corner of the prison yard, screened off from the ground-level guards by the never-intersecting streams of cons flowing around them.
Any experienced gun-tower hack could read the swirls below him, see something was up. But the convicts knew the duty roster better than the warden. They knew the tower closest to the action was manned by a tired old guy with thirty years on the job and a good supply of gash magazines. All they had to do was keep the noise down.
"Only play is to stay away." The Prof spoke low to me.
"Yeah," I said. "Larsen's not built for distance. If Jester gets him tired, he can--"
"Our play, fool!" the Prof hissed at me. "The fuse is lit; it's time to split."
We faded, working our way back through the crowd sneaking glances at the duel. By the time the whistle blew and the first shots sounded from the tower, we were standing on either side of the sally port as the Goon Squad rushed through, hammering wildly at every con within reach.
Larsen didn't run. He was facedown on the filthy asphalt, Jester's shank protruding from the back of his neck. The matador had gone in over the horns.
They locked the whole joint down, tore up everyone's house looking for weapons. But all that did was simmer the pot more, as plots and counterplots festered into a Big House brew of pus and poison. Usually it was black against white, with brown trying to stay out of the crossfire. But this one had rolled out different.
Larsen rode with a motorcycle gang; there were a lot of bikers Inside then. And Jester had been flying colors at sixteen, when he'd taken the life that had bought him a life sentence. The kid he'd killed was another PR, from a rival club, but that didn't matter anymore.
Back then, when it came to prison war, race trumped tribe every time.
You never got a choice about that. The cons had all kinds of names for areas of the prison--Times Square, Blues Alley, D Street--but I never heard of one named Switzerland.