Vachss has reinvented detective fiction and, in the person of Burke, his haunted, hell-ridden P.I., has given readers a new kind of hero. Investigating an epidemic of apparent suicides among the teenagers of a wealthy suburb, Burke discovers a sinister connection between the anguish of the young and the activities of an elite sadomasochistic underground.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful: When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you, February 27, 2002 Reviewer: Stone Junction from Winnipeg, MB There comes a time in the life of every vigilante where stock must be taken, where the actions of the past finally catch up, either literally or metaphorically. Burke is at such a crossroads: he's completely immobilized by a recent event, unable to function, or even care. Burke is looking down in the zero, into the abyss, and it beckons him with its silence. Burke, for the uninitiated, is the protagonist of many novels of Andrew Vachss. Burke is a denizen of the world's underbelly, a man who has a code of honour all of his own, and a particular blinding hatred for any person who would prey on children. Burke is not a nice man, but he will get results. And DOWN IN THE ZERO provides him yet another opportunity to dispense his own unique form of justice. DOWN begins with Burke at perhaps his lowest point: he has recently (albeit accidentally) caused the death of a child. He is crushed, depressed, and on the edge, and even the caring ministrations of his usual cadre of oddly endearing individuals (the Mole, the Prof, Mama, andthe transvestite Michelle) cannot rouse him from his depths. It takes a phone call from the son of a past acquaintance, relating a bizarre tale of an epidemic of teenage suicides in a Connecticut suburb, to stir him into action. That, and the possibility of easy money from the area's rich inhabitants. Let's face it, the Burke series will never be accused of subtlety. It is violent, profane, and rather misogynist in its appeal. It advocates self-justice to the Law, and is inherently distrustful of the legal system. But Vachss (who also acts as an attorney exclusively for youth) writes with fury and passion: he's the leaner, meaner brother of Jim Thompson, if such a thing is possible. He creates a world few of us would wish to visit, a world of never-ending viciousness and despair. Consider the following prose, a short chapter from the novel: "It was just before rush hour when I headed back. The subway car was almost deserted. A slender, light-skinned black kid with a short, neat haircut got on. He was wearing a resplendent soft leather jacket. The front panel was maroon, ballooning white sleeves ran over the top of the shoulders with a black circle on each one, a white 8 inside the circle. The back was a red triangle tapering to the waist, with blue filling in the gaps, a huge eight ball smack in the middle. "An 8-Ball jacket is a major prize for ratpacking teenage gangstah-bandits - they cost a few hundred dollars. I caught the kid's eyes, shook my head, telling him he was a chump for being such a target. The kid looked back, calm, tapped his waistband, gave me a sweet, sad smile. You want his jacket, you ante your life. "That's what it costs today." This is the kind of prose that professional reviewers often refer to as 'muscular'. It hits the reader where it hurts, and makes no apologies for its behaviour. But it is a style that is as compelling and challenging as any other, and is presented with a discipline that makes it look easy. But it isn't, and pretenders to the noir throne frequently overplay the style, leading to parody. Even Vachss is not immune to such a failing: his novel BATMAN: THE ULTIMATE EVIL fails on almost every level, and his Burke novel BLUE BELLE constantly steps over the line. But ZERO is a fine, memorable addition. It has all the usual elements (including Vachss' use of nouns as proper names for his female characters; offhand, I can name Belle, Flood, Candy, Gem, Blossom, and ZERO's trio of Fancy, Charm, and Cherry). It adds another level to Burke's personality, as he reluctantly becomes a surrogate father-figure to Cherry's son Randy. The plot moves along quickly, but there is too much of it; like other Vachss novels, the plot could be simplified by half with no loss to its style or message. It also stretches the reader's suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. But ZERO is too well-written to be swamped by such criticisms. It is nasty, it is brutal, it is everything Vachss wants it to be, and it is everything a lover of hard-boiled fiction could ask for. Author Walter Mosley has compared Vachss' world of heightened reality to the works of Charles Dickens. That may be an arguable presumption, but it does serve to display how deeply Vachss' novels can be felt by the reader.