Vachss abates the edge he saves for his Burke series (Only Child, p. 1083, etc.) in this retro noir. Sure, it starts off in his tougher-than-thou mode, with the underage hero, Eddie, stealing cars so that he can practice his driving and then having to prove to lawyers and judges and fellow inmates that he’s not “a stupid kid” but “a real driver” who won’t betray his feelings, ask for money up front, or roll over on his pals. The foolish moves of amateurs like Rodney and Luther pain Eddie, whose proudest moment comes when bank-robbing brothers Tim and Virgil make up for their faux pas in offering him a salary by calling him family. In the meantime, Eddie’s gotten old enough to drive (though the law considers him too dangerous to license); to quit making his toughness an issue; and to enjoy special moments with Bonnie, not exactly a girlfriend, and Daphne, a shoplifter as compulsively attached to the gewgaws she purloins as he is to the ’55 Thunderbird he’s restoring. Though Daphne turns him on to handcuffs and videos of movies about driving, it’s not till he hooks up with Vonda, the scared, scarred mate of heist veteran J.C., that Eddie can see all the cards falling his way: the foolproof armored-car job, the well-earned double-cross, the ride into the sunset with Vonda and the ’Bird. In your dreams, Eddie.
Whoosh. As slick and enjoyable as a vintage Jim Thompson paperback or a Saturday afternoon at the bijou.