In a weirdly unexpected spin on the saga of ultra-tough Burke, Vachss drops his freelance avenger onto the mean streets of Portland, and produces his most conventional case to date.
Burke’s left the Big Apple behind, along with his Gotham menagerie—Max the Silent, Clarence, the Mole, Mama, Wolfe—and most recently his stint in prison. Rest and rebuild, comes the word from his regulars back home. So while he’s thieving and shacking up with Gem, the woman who calls herself his wife, Burke decides to take the most old-fashioned kind of case a private eye ever gets: a vanished daughter. Rosebud Carpin, 16, has packed her guitar and knapsack, left a note for her parents, arranged to keep in touch surreptitiously with her girlfriend, and quietly disappeared. Her moneyed father, a one-time political activist turned architect, is worried about what she might be up to and with whom, but Burke’s nightly patrols of Portland’s red-light district don’t turn up Rosebud, or any reassuring news about her. What they do turn up is one Ann O. Dyne, a flamboyant pain-management guru who’s devoted herself to stealing pharmaceuticals and dispensing them to near-death patients whose access to painkillers is limited by their wallets or HMO’s or various laws. Ann insists that she can get a line on Rosebud for a price Burke is in a unique position to pay: some professional help in heisting a truckload of drugs that would do her network of clients a lot more good than their official addressees. The result is the usual elaborate series of no-trust trades, many of them even more muffled by testosterone than usual, before a nifty climactic surprise worthy of the retro whodunits Burke wouldn’t look at twice.
Better grab this round of the usual Burke pleasures fast before the hardcase settles down in a suburban tract house with a white picket fence.