Burke is Back
By Jody L. Ipsen
"You've got to remember, I'm in the business of revenge," said Andrew Vachss, attorney in private practice and author of the Burke novels, in response to his activism for children's rights. On a recent visit to Page One Bookstore where Vachss signed books, he spoke about his new novel, Dead and Gone, and his crusade against child abuse.
Dead and Gone immediately places the reader in the underground world of the main character/anti-hero, Burke, who must find the people responsible for his attempted murder. From the first paragraph, the audience is in a gripping web of intrigue and mystery.
"You know what it takes to sit across a table from a man, listen to him talk, look into his eyes ... and then blow his brains all over the wallpaper?"
In typical Burkesque style, the novel carefully spins through the back alleys of New York City and through Mama's restaurant where she serves up hot and sour soup and contacts to the underworld. Burke is contracted for hire to find a Russian boy missing over 10 years, and when he drops off the ransom money in exchange for the boy, he is left for dead.
"These people come to me," Burke says. "They say their child is kidnapped. And the man who has him will return him for money. They want me to deliver the money. And they will pay for the service. I tell them, of course we will do that. I would have sent one of my people. But then they say there is a condition. It must be you who delivers the money." As it turns out, this condition is made because someone wants Burke dead.
The perverse profiteering of pedophiles lurks in the shadows of the plot. Burke has an invested interest in the safety of children. "It is all over the street, how you feel about kids. And about those who ... use them." Dead and Gone traverses the country from the dark-side of New York to gloomy Oregon. Burke then leaves the Northwest with Gem, a Cambodian genocide survivor of the Pol Pot regime, to comb through the Jemez Mountains in search of the one man, Lune, who can help him unravel the sequence of events, find the pattern of commonality, and reveal the kidnapper and his attempted murderer. The story is complex, with a well-developed plot and the characterization of a well-spun yarn.
But more intriguing than the novel is Vachss' ardent crusade for children's rights. As an attorney, Andrew Vachss champions his practice around children and sexual abuse cases. He is a strong proponent of The CARE Act of 1999, which states that the punishment ought to be the same for any act of child molestation, whether it be incestuous or by a complete stranger. "In most states the penalty for an adult who rapes a child is 20 years plus—unless that adult happens to be related to the child—in which case the maximum sentence could be probation." The "incest exception" is not acceptable because it returns the perpetrator back into the home where the child is not safe. Vachss believes that "we build our own beasts," and releasing the family member on probation only perpetuates the problem.
Vachss believes his writing career is an organic extension of his private practice. Everything he writes about is drawn from his personal experience. He can't talk about writing without mentioning his vocation. Vachss has had an interesting career, including a position as a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases where he observed a small child infected with gonorrhea. He directed a maximum-security prison for youth offenders, and currently practices law in the state of New York. He has written a plethora of Burke novels, and also authored Another Chance To Get It Right: A Children's Book for Adults. More information about his work can be found at his website, "The Zero" at www.vachss.com.
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