I finally got around to reading one of Andrew Vachss' books, thanks to the interview of him by Craig McDonald in Rogue Males: Conversations & Confrontations About the Writing Life. Vachss recently published the 18th and last novel in his Burke series, while I finished FLOOD, the first of the Burke books, now almost 25 years old. Being entirely objective about the novel, it has some flaws: a lot of movement without action, some outdated ideas about women. But in Burke, Vachss has created a memorable character. First and foremost, Burke is an urban survivor. He is all about low-profile self-protection, but manages not to become a recluse. He's nobody's idea of Superman. He's afraid to the point of paranoia. And he's no moralist or do-gooder; there aren't too many scams he can't see coming, or work if he wants to. But he also knows how the criminal justice system does and doesn't work, and when called on to help a woman bring down a child rapist and murderer, Burke will do all he can to help her but he will also make sure of his own survival. He has some interesting friends in low places to help him. I'll be reading more in the Burke series as the stark agony and realism of Vachss' focus - child abuse - means that no matter when these books were published they remain tragically, socially relevant.
Coming on the heels of Vachss' bleak tale about the search for a child killer, debut author Sophie Littlefield's A BAD DAY FOR SORRY at first seemed a bit too lighthearted for the topic of spousal abuse. Turned out though that Littlefield does treat the topic with respect, and I have no doubt at all that she is going to have a huge success with what would seem to be the first in a series. Her heroine, Stella Hardesty, is no Stephanie Plum - thank God! - but is a middle-aged, energetic woman whose own lifetime of experience with spousal abuse has led her to become the blood-chilling bane of existence for wife-beaters in her small community. In some ways, Stella is like Burke except that she doesn't pay as much attention to self-protection either as she should or as she thinks she does. Don't get me wrong, she's not as moronically defenseless as Stephanie Plum, but she does sometimes act more on impulse than judgment, and this forces the author to rely a shade too much on luck and the goodwill of law enforcement officials to mitigate the consequences of Stella's actions. But Littlefield captures the dialogue and attitudes of the small-town Midwest to perfection, and again, I think this series is going to be a big, big success for Littlefield.
36 YALTA BOULEVARD is the third book in Olen Steinhauer's series set in a post-WW2 Eastern Bloc nation. This time around the book shifts from police work to espionage, and Brano Sev, that mysterious figure from the previous books, takes front and center. As a result of a botched job in Vienna that left him with amnesia, Sev is demoted and sent to work in a factory. But even that simple statement has an astonishing amount of intrigue behind it. It's cross, double-cross, and triple-cross, as Sev tries to find the truth and still remain ideologically pure. One of the wonderful things about these books is that the author never tries to pigeonhole characters into behaving in Western ways. One may not always like his characters, one may struggle to understand their worldviews, but they are always fully developed and interesting.