Burke, the dark avenger of Vachss's ultra-gritty urban crime series, has been killing bad peopleAusually child molestersAfor most of his 40-odd years. Somebody was bound to catch up with him eventually, and that's exactly what happens in this 13th installment in the series. Professional killers ambush Burke late one night, putting a bullet in his head and killing his beloved dog, Pansy. Physically, Vachss's self-professed "outlaw" is a changed man when he finally sneaks out of the hospital. But he's still the same old Burke on the inside. He wants revengeAbut he has no idea who masterminded the attack. Thus begins a months-long odyssey that takes him all over the country. Tapping into his extensive network of gray-area lawmen, violent criminals, degenerates of all stripes, beautiful women and whacked-out geniuses, he slowly pieces together which one of his enemies (a) is still alive, and (b) has the resources to have engineered such a sophisticated hit. Vachss's voice, as always, is one of the most distinctive in crime fictionAlean and tough, heavy on vernacular, notable for what's not said rather than for what is. Yet his plotting here is ponderous, with vast stretches of story devoted to Burke's self-analysis and a strange love affair he develops with Gem, a Cambodian woman he meets in Portland. Hardcore Burke fans may find the inner character work fascinating, as Burke reveals far more of himself and his sordid past here than in previous books. The novel's otherwise underwhelming finale does contain another nugget for fans: it appears likely that Burke will be leaving his longtime home, New York City, for the Pacific Northwest in coming books, just as Vachss did a few years ago.
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