I love detective novels. I worship the stories of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, The Saint, and others like Johnny Dollar, and Nick Novak. I also love modern sci-fi, loaded with the images of multiple dimensions, life off of the Earth, and areas where the natural and supernatural dance the Flamenco.
If I ever sought the missing link between Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, and Simon R. Green’s John Taylor, I believe I may have found him in Andrew Vachss’ Mr. Burke. Burke is many things to many people. He’s beloved master to his mastiff, Pansy. He’s devoted brother to his silent, muscular partner, Max. He’s the coordinator of odd jobs through his cohort, Mama Wong.
Burke lives in a world of few variables. He knows Max’s silent strength. He knows when he can count on the mysterious, dark-dweller called “The Mole”, and he loves betting on horse races. Someday, when he’s cashed in on the case of his dreams, the ex-con simply called Mr. Burke plans on owning a horse, and retiring rich.
Once Burke agrees to meet and take the case of the diminutive, athletic woman known simply as Miss Flood, all bets are off.
Burke soon creates an explosive concoction; mixing in the routine trials of a whore vs. her pimp, drug traffickers meant to stay hidden from the public eye, and the extremist world of White Supremacists intent on blasting all other races back to the dark ages. These worlds mix and mingle far more often than anyone would imagine. In some cases, they overlap in the name of opportunity. In the more important phases, they overlap in the name of honor and revenge.
Vachss tackles the seedy worlds of prostitution and child pornography with the view of an experienced professional. Before writing the Burke series, Vachss worked the trenches as a Federal investigator, a social caseworker, a labor organizer, and a private practice lawyer. His knowledge and opinion of the Justice System is evident in this, the first series in the Burke novels. Burke operates, as many of us wish we could, above the law. He can impose judgment where the system can’t. He can deliver execution to those criminals the law has yet to catch. In some ways, he’s the deliverer of judgment. In others, he’s just a flawed, scared vigilante willing to try and make things right.
Burke is unavoidable compared to his predecessors; Spade, Marlowe and Holmes, among others. He’s something different though. Burke delivers his tale from the snapshot of New York, just as Marlowe’s beat was a point-in-time capture of Los Angeles. They were products of their own history, and their respective environments. Burke, like all dicks, will be compared to those who came before him, and after. In “Flood”, Burke may have found his calling, and Vachss may have discovered the ideal world for a modern day prophet, hitman, private investigator, and complex network than can pull off a multi-faceted investigation.
As for Miss Flood, she may have the face of an Angel, the body of a stripper and the skills of a martial arts master, but this tale is all about Burke; the latest member of a long-standing order of gumshoes willing to solve a case at any case. With any luck, her unsuspecting accomplice, Burke, might survive and come back for more.