Quick review. I just finished reading Andrew Vachss's latest novel, "Another Life." This gritty crime novel is presented as the end of the Burke series, a series that I have read in its entirety but that I also feel wore thin some time ago.
In "real life" Vachss is an attorney who focuses on child abuse and child protection. His novels deal with child abuse and sex crimes, and do so in a dark, unrelenting, very informed (at times some would say overly informed) manner. This one is no exception.
The plot is a good vehicle for us to see Burke, the hero of the series, in action doing what he does best, trying to get track down someone who has done something seemingly incomprehensible to a normal person, something evil and something involving a child. [Warning: the plot is not pleasant and neither is this review.] The baby of a Saudi sultan has been kidnapped out of his car after the sultan was drugged. No one knows who did it, but the method clearly shows a well-drilled, well-trained team. The Sultan had a disturbing fetish involving this infant. He would hire women to perform sexual acts on him while the infant watched, then dismiss the ladies calling them "Holes." A shadowy government figure, Pryce, who has appeared intermittently in previous books, approaches Burke for assistance in solving the crime. After all, Burke is the man who is known for his ability to understand and track down and punish "freaks." As one of Burke's loved ones, a member of his adoptive family is in need of serious hospitalization after being shot in the previous book in the series, and this is not easy considering that the person has warrants out for his arrest and thus should not be placed in a regular hospital, Burke readily agrees to take on the case. In classic Burke fashion, although he starts out interested primarily in the money he continues obsessively seeking to destroy whoever would do such a thing.
I liked this book much better than the last one. The author seems much more focused on his work. The plot is a much better vehicle for Burke. In the absence of strong clues, we see Burke seek out the criminals through seeking out the places where someone who might kidnap a baby could be found. It's a strange, unpleasant Burke-like journey as he visits fetishists, purveyors of hard-core pornography, dominatrixes, serial killer enthusiasts and therapists seeking clues. As in the previous book in the series, there were points in the plot where I was very confused as to why Burke was going to different places and why exactly he was seeking out the people he was seeking out. (And, yes, I do blame the author for this confusion, although I know fully well some might prefer to blame me.) However, it was not nearly as confusing as the last book and even when I did confused I could follow along just for the dramatic effect (minor spoilers: Burke, a discarded infant now grown, needs to look into his own past, something he avoids doing, in order to gain insight into what has happened to this kidnapped infant.)
As always Vachss includes his unique asides and uses his characters to voice his own opinions on multiple subjects, including, for instance, blues music, a subject Vachss loves and his characters discuss endlessly (but to fans approval. At one point, Vachss released a blues compilation album to go with one of his novels and it's not a bad album at all. One particularly interesting aside was when a character expressed approval of Marc MacYoung's self defense books. This seemed to come from no where and took me out of the story for a moment, but then again MacYoung's books are well worth reading (I've read pretty much all of them too) and when I thought it through I realized that it was MacYoung, back in the day, who threw in a recommendation to read the Burke series in one of his books and set me down this long strange path of reading Vachss.
In the past I've criticized Vachss for representing forms of child abuse in his book that are controversial or disproven as well as distorting and misrepresenting the motives and beliefs of people who defend those who defend people who are falsely accused of child abuse of various kinds. (Child abuse is a horrible thing. Unfortunately it is also a crime that is surprisingly easy to be falsely accused of.) I did not find these tendencies to be as strong in this work as in some of his others. (Ironically, the worst offender in this category is the novel "False Accusations," where Vachss pledged and then reneged to address this issue head on, instead using this novel to attack and distort the views of his critics.)
In conclusion, "Another Life" was an interesting book, not perfect, but interesting and I enjoyed reading it.
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