DOWN IN THE ZERO by Andrew Vachss


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 After an absence in Vachss's last novel Shella (1993), Burke--the PI hero of all the others--returns for this, Vachss's eighth. Burke's been doing some general snooping--checking up on cheating spouses, etc.--when he gets a call from Randy, a teenager from a wealthy Connecticut neighborhood whose friends are all committing suicide. He has a feeling his life is in danger--and remembers that his mother (Cherry, who saved Burke's neck long ago when he was a freedom-fighter in Biafra) once told him to contact Burke if he ever felt endangered. Burke moves into Randy's house for an extended investigation of the area--and this leads him to Cherry's friend, Fancy, a potentially dangerous vixen whose trust Burke casually earns through a mixture of sexual role-playing and a very careful search into her past. What follows is a plot (that's possibly more intricate than it needs to be) about a porn-film ring and a wealthy dominatrix/sociopath- -but Vachss is so sure-footed on psychological terrain, especially that of the sexually abused, that his plot-cramming secondary stories are all captivating sidelines. He takes Burke's tough-guy status to excessive limits, investing him with nearly superhuman powers of strength, libido, and intellect. But Burke also has a maudlin side--part of his tough-love routine is to spill lines like ``The night didn't have a chance against the kid's smile.'' Joined by a cast readers will recognize from Vachss's previous work, including West Indian Clarence and the Prof, Burke ends up meting out justice according to his prison- honed bullshit detector: He helps all those who have a shred of goodness in them, and he helps destroy the irredeemably evil. Burke's return is welcome--his superstud act may be extreme here, but he's one of the most fascinating male characters in crime fiction; and as usual, Vachss controls his narrative, cut up into bullet-sized chapters, with admirable precision.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43328-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994


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