When I finished reading Flood, I put the book down and said to myself, “I can’t read Vachss again and I want to take a shower to get the grime off me.” However, in retrospect how often does a book leave such a strong impression on your psyche? How often does a book leave such intense and raw feelings?
The subject, the exploitation of children including snuff films and pornography, was handled by Vachss with kid gloves, with very few literal descriptions. He gives you enough information to let you form your own impressions of the real subject matter. What he leaves to your imagination is quickly made up by his vivid description of the protagonist, Burke (no first name), the finest example of an anti-hero I’ve ever read. And Miss Flood, just Flood to the reader in this first person book, comes in a close second as an anti-hero.
Burke claims his parents were “the state” and he lived in foster homes a few times, he was delinquent, spent time in prison and is a private investigator, licensed or unlicensed, I’m not sure. But he’s a survivor of the city he knows so well. He knows how to talk to people, dresses for the occasion and takes very good care of himself. While he’s not a karate expert, he’s certainly centered and focused on people and his surroundings at all times.
Burke’s circle of friends is a strange (by my definition) group of people; Max the Silent (reminds me of Crais’ Joe Pike) and Burke’s spiritual brother; the Prophet, a little person who spouts prophecies among other things; Michelle, a trustworthy transsexual hooker; Mole, an electronic genius of sorts who lives underground; Mama, owner of Mama’s Wong, a Chinese restaurant who assists Burke whenever needed; and Pansy, Burke’s mastiff and protector of all that Burke holds dear, his office and abode, his privacy. There are others in this motley New York City crew but you get the picture. These people are a weird, strange bunch including Burke by my standards. But they’re all kind of likeable in their own way. How did Vachss get me to like them?
Flood has come to Burke with $1,000 to locate a man known as the Cobra who rapes and murders children. Burke takes the reader on a journey to the deep underbelly of New York City. I’m not familiar with NYC but sure there are some not so desirable areas that I surely wouldn’t want to visit. But I never thought much about how filthy and nasty they are and filled with people who were very similar to their surroundings. OK, some people, but not Burke’s friends, of course.
Burke is not above skirting the law or scamming others for what he wants and needs. For instance he never pays a phone bill because Mole set up his office phone to share a line with the hippies on the floor below who have a different schedule, up all night, sleep all day.
Everything about Burke is unique and different but he’s learned how to survive in the city; the city is his, he knows who and how to get things done. He’s imaginative, creative and a real badass. One I would want on my side definitely.
After finishing and thinking about the book I decided I was not going read another Vachss. It just made me feel unclean, dirty on the outside somehow. As I write this though, I’ve decided that I will probably read another because it was so very good, so powerful...not for a while though. I can read some authors back to back but Andrew H. Vachss, no way. I’m ready to read Pippi Longstocking or something to put some sunshine in my day since I was in darkness, noir, if you will, the entire weekend.