BOOK & BLOG
September 17, 2006
Books of the Week: The Burke Books by Andrew Vachss
And now for something completely different, as the Monty Python announcer says. I know I review a lot of paranormal books with romance elements, but I do read a lot in the mystery field, of course. Some of you, maybe lots of you, havent read Andrew Vachss before, but Im a tremendous fan of his. Vachss (pronounced, to the best of my knowledge, as Vosh), a lawyer and advocate for abused children, has been writing hard-boiled crime novels for over fifteen years. And when I call them hard-boiled, I am putting it mildly. The first time I read one of Vachsss books, I was profoundly shocked and impressed. Though hes written a variety of stuff, I am a huge fan of his Burke novels. Burke is a guy so far underground he wouldnt register on a seismograph. He was brought up by the State of New York in a series of foster homes, and was severely abused in most of them. Hes done time, richly-deserved time. Hes a thief. Hes a scammer.
And yet its impossible not to cheer Burke on. He scams the evil and wrong-minded, he is absolutely loyal to collection of misfits that constitute his family, and he is willing to go to any length to extricate a child from an abuse situation. Besides, he loves his dog. He even likes women with less-than-tiny derrieres. The most interesting thing about Burke is his enormous power of concentration. He can wait. He doesnt force things to happen. He can spend hours thinking situations through. I dont know of another character in fiction who is portrayed as sitting and reasoning as much as Burke does.
As with most series, its better to try to find one of the earliest Burke books FLOOD, BLUE BELLE, STREGA -- to begin your Vachss reading. Try a second-hand paperback, maybe; I warn you, hes not for everyone. His most recent book, MASK MARKET, is just as fascinating as his first. I wouldnt miss a Burke book for anything.
For about five years, I could truthfully say that Id never seen an episode of Friends. I never watched Dallas. I dont think Ive ever seen an entire soap opera. Oprah? Nope. I just wasnt that much of a television watcher, and when I did watch, it was at night. I watched a few crime dramas, like Hill Street Blues, and of course the yet-to-be-matched Homicide.
A few things have happened to change this. My children have grown up, which means that not only do I have more disposable time in the daytime, but their youthful eyes and ears wont be corrupted by the mature situations on some shows, and the sexual innuendoes on others. The most crucial factor is my eyesight. Since Im now in my fifties (I know, I look so youthful that its hard to believe, huh?) I cant read as much as I could a few years ago. And I cant look at a computer screen as long, either. So, theres television.
It hasnt gotten better.
Maybe Ive gotten more tolerant. Or maybe the shows now are more varied. For instance, we now get BBC America, and I can enjoy Cash in the Attic, and some of the other shows they schedule sporadically; like Bargain Hunt or Homes under the Hammer. Then theres the one whose name escapes me, the one where the American Ann comes into a home thats been on the market for a while and renders the home more saleable; the fun in that show is the jaw-dropping way the homes had been decorated before Ann sets one of her tasteful pumps through the doorway. I love this stuff. My family just shakes its collective head, though I see my son and daughter drawn into the drama occasionally when they wander through the room while Im watching on my lunch break.
And Im sampling more. You cant get hooked on a show youve never watched, but now I find Im checking more of the new stuff out. Thats how I found House, which I dont miss; its one of the shows I watch with my daughter. The original CSI is another. We howl with laughter over CSI Miami, and CSI New York never caught our fancy, but we know the plot of every CSI Las Vegas by heart. We came into it late, but gosh, are there reruns.
Lots of shows are premiering this week and next week, and I expect quite a few of you will be hunkered in front of your television set to sample the new shows and meet your old friends in the returning shows. Just dont forget that in an hour, that television show will be over, but your faithful book will be there waiting for you.
® 2010 Charlaine Harris