Andrew Vachss has carved himself an Ellroy-sized section of the American Noir highway. His Burke novels have laid down the asphalt, and such standalones as Shella, The Getaway Man, and the GREAT Two Trains Running have marked the lanes. He is a major American writer. Just don't tell him, ok? Please, it's for the best. If you've ever attended one of his "readings," you know what I mean.
There are reasons for this. Primarily is that Vachss writes not to tell stories, per se, but to send messages to affect behavior. And it's working. He has mobilized a virtual army in the battle against child pornography, and the visible result is PROTECT, the only child-protection PAC in the nation. They've overturned the heinous incest exception in many states, and have more in their sights [...].
But I'm here to talk about Mask Market, which is the latest in the Burke series. The good news, and a point I can't stress too lightly, is this is a GREAT jumping-on point for those who have never read the series before. Vachss, we can only assume, has taken it upon himself to educate readers who were drawn to this book after reading Two Trains Running by hitting the key events of events past in the universe that is Burke's world. Those first-timers will quickly understand the Manhattan Burke operates in, along with his family, his history and, of course, his demons.
And for those long-timers, think about going to a concert by someone you've loved for years, and how, in the midst of something new, you hear hints of something you recognize, and a few bars later, the song appears in its full glory. Vachss does that here, and it's exciting to read. You know the beats, you know the characters, and yet, he brings them to life as if new. Heck, he even plays those damn trotters!! Now THAT'S kicking it old-school!!
[...] Vachss uses this plot point as a device to bring readers up to speed, in highly entertaining fashion, on the history of the characters, and in many respects, the world--according to Vachss.
The other things you love to read Vachss write about--cars, music, and girls--are all well-represented here, to the point that if I didn't know better, I'd think Vachss actually "had fun" writing about this time. There is, dare I say it, near-joy in his writing this time through, and for those of us that have been with the series since the beginning, it's pretty cool to read.
But a Vachss novel is only sizzle/prose without the meat/message. Those "Trojan horses" he loves to write about, designed to galvanize thought into action. Mask Market has "Trojan ponies" scattered throughout, mostly relating to what constitutes a mask these days. The Big Horse will hit you like buckshot. It's an inversion of something that Vachss readers are very familiar with. Of course, it's concealed in a major plot point, so I'll leave it there for you to find.
Just remember this...for years, "critics" have blasted Vachss for writing about things "too gruesome to be true," when in fact, a few years later, they have become major issues on our landscape. From child pornography/trafficking to kids blowing up kids in schools, to twisted reality programming, Vachss has warned us of the evil that's coming, and dared/inspired us to try and stop it. He just happens to do it in highly entertaining fashion, with the Burke series. Which, with Mask Market, reclaims its place among the Great Series in Crime Fiction.