BLACKJACK by Andrew Vachss


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The feds think the man named Cross is a sociopath, but Cross believes in Truth, Justice and the American Way—or enough so that he can be useful.

Vachss (That’s How I Roll, 2012, etc.) peoples his new action-adventure series with a plethora of eye-catching characters. Cross, in the business of turning bad guys into dead bad guys, has his cohorts, "a gestalt of outcasts." There's Ace, his buddy since “hardball juvie”; Princess, a shaved-head giant who dresses gay to provoke fights; Rhino, mistakenly institutionalized, then imprisoned, later a machine-gun artist; and Buddha, a military buddy saddled with a spendthrift wife. Operating from a derelict building, identified only by a spray-painted “Red 71,” and located in a gritty, near-abandoned Chicago neighborhood, Cross and his well-armed gang draw the attention of Unit 3, a deep-cover government group with their own War Room somewhere in the mean streets of the Windy City. Unit 3 has its own assorted outliers, but the two most likely to hang around for sequel adventures are Tiger, a female warrior, and Tracker, a Native American who lives up to his name. Cross is written as the proverbial noir tough guy—“His facial expression resembled an Easter Island statue on Botox”—but Vachss incorporates horror by making the villain in this adventure an entity, a black shadow-blob, that finds really, really bad folks and removes their skulls and spines. The shadow-blob, about which Cross soon waxes philosophically, is an equal opportunity avenger. Drug dealers, serial killers, environmental poachers, gangbangers and Hong Kong gangsters are in peril. There's ample action, gore galore and creative characterization. The amorphous, not-quite-yet-scary antagonist in this initial outing shows promise for the next Cross caper, that is if fans aren’t put off by the last quarter of this book, taken up by an epilogue settling earlier scores left dangling.

Quick read, but somewhat disjointed. A novel premise, and the sort of thing that could develop a passionate following.

Pub Date: July 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-94957-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2012


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