The baddest noir stylist of them all (That’s How I Roll, 2012, etc.) digs into his archives from the past 15 years and comes up with 20 visits to hell.
No matter where they live or what they do, nobody in Vachss' world ever has a nice day. In “Postwar Boom,” set back in 1947, two closemouthed veterans cross the country in a series of cars provided by someone who’s hired them as killers. The fate of a remote village depends on child sacrifice in “Blood Orchid.” The gun rights advocate in “Choice of Weapons” gets his at the hands of a neighbor who has strong reasons for revenge. A young woman with a roving eye plays a misbegotten prank on her fiance in “Corazón.” The final entry, the feature-length screenplay “Underground,” tracks episodes of violent conflict between teenage gangs fighting for survival in a glumly dystopian future. The stories remote in time and place, however, are less compelling than those in which Vachss discloses the same darkly atavistic desires on random street corners. Some of the briefest entries here—snapshots as short as a single page—are as blistering as anything Vachss has ever written. In “Sure Thing,” a gambler finds that he just can’t give up the ghost while there’s still money in his pocket. “They’re All Alike” pairs a murderous john with a streetwalker who’s more than his match. “Savior” is the remarkably concise confession of a thief-turned-killer. Of the longer tales, the one that maintains this intensity most consistently is “Ghostwriter,” which follows an aspiring writer who takes no prisoners in his hunger for professional success. The outlier, “Veil’s Visit,” co-authored with Joe R. Lansdale, is both loose and funny.
A collection of white-hot short stories.