As has been said, 'There is no other living American author with prose as razor-clean as Andrew Vachss.....Vachss is a Zen warrior with a pen.' And he is also a warrior who explores the cruelest areas of life, whether it be pedophilia, ritual killing, sadism, or sexual deviance. He does this with no holds-barred; his words are startling, candid, often producing what some may call abhorrent but certainly frightening scenarios. Having said all of that CHOICE OF EVIL may well be his darkest Burke novel yet.
There is a tad of levity at the onset when Burke's dog, Pansy, is arrested in a police raid, and the rescue involves releasing a clutch of yapping canines. But then the terror begins when Burke is hired to find and protect a vigilante calling himself Homo Erectus who has declared war on gay bashers.
Just as the prose is razor sharp so is the narration by Phil Gigante, a veteran of some 70 audio books (including Burke stories). He delivers a forceful voice performance, made even more frightening by a clear, at times almost emotionless reading. While some less proficient readers might be tempted to give drama full throttle in some of the nightmare producing scenes, Gigante knows that in this case less is more.
- Gail Cooke
on April 10, 2002
As a stand alone novel, it is perhaps too heavy with references to previous novels but the disturbing nature of the story is strong enough to prevent those moments from becoming too distracting. The story is actual a mystery, as Burke (the protagonist) attempts to find the killer of his girlfriend Crystal Beth and discovers that her death is actually a great deal more horrific given who the murderer may be. The plot is not only an exploration of what kind of adult a State run (specifically New York) childcare department can produce but also the seamy criminal culture of pedophiles and serial killers. Be forewarned this book is not a comfortable read. Mr. Vacchs skill is enough that a great deal of the book is read with a fair amount of dread as one damaged character appears after another, with the character Burke being the axle of which this wonder-wheel of strange and unusual individuals revolve. So what's to like about this book? It's a crime genre novel and if you enjoy that kind of book it is well done and swimming with enough criminals and insinuated violence to make your skin crawl. The dialogue reads the way people speak so there is a flow that makes you the 3rd person in the scene, but there can be a bit of a struggle as characters interrupt each other's dialogue to express their own thoughts. In regard to the cast of characters, it's hard not to appreciate the loyalty Burke and his adopted street family share, but it's an uncomfortable appreciation given the nature of many of the relationships between the characters, most of them being practicing criminals. There is enough hints in Burke's thoughts that you know he has been made by his violent childhood circumstance and as an adult he's decided that this is the life he will lead, doing crimes and occasionally killing criminals that fall into the categories he finds abhorrent. Burke seems to be two people, either he is just a criminal with a vengeance streak or he's a victim turned criminal to get close to his source of vengeance. In either case Burke can be a depressing and vengeful character in this novel, as the reader begins to realize it doesn't really matter if he is either of those two people, (vengeful criminal or victim turning to crime for vengeance. One can't help suspecting that no matter what good comes from his actions Burke doesn't have a chance in hell of ever being happy or particularly stable. What this novel did succeed in doing is galvanize me to buy past Burke novels to fill in some of the character gaps. All in all, this book kept me turning the page and wondering what Burke's next novel will be about.
on February 26, 2001
.. "Choice of Evil," though full of the urban misery and blues we've come to expect, doesn't pack the same punch. Granted, it would be hard to top "Sacrifice."
Burke's women either leave or die. So, Crystal Beth dies in what seems to be a drive-by at a gay pride rally. We get Burke the Sleuth, but not the Avenging Angel. The online search for the killer teases us with the possibility of Wesley's return..
What I miss in recent Vachss is the destruction of children as a plot element; lately it's left in the background as a short-hand device for character development. True to form, there's the Next Twisted Woman - a dominatrix named Nadine. their dialogue is a departure from the usual Burke-woman banter; Burke seems downright crotchety. His impatience with female posturing is at an all-time high. Nice to see Strega again, though. She still scares Burke 'cause she's a reminder that despite his resignation, he still desires...
As Vachss moves an aging Burke further away from ground-zero vengeance, he moves into Thomas Harris-style psychological intrigue. Give me the hellish terrain of "Sacrifice" and "Hard Candy." Reempower him as the bloody-handed avenger of the Children of The Secret.
on September 27, 2000
The Burke series is generally a great one. Vacchs, an attorney who represents juveniles only, and who has a professional resume that proves he knows first-hand the horror that abused children experience, always generates an aura of reality in his writing. The cruelty to children depicted in the Burke books is truly disturbing, because you know as you read it that this stuff really goes on. Burke, a hard-bitten criminal, has enough redeeming qualities to make him a great anti-hero. Among those redeeming qualities are a sense of deep loyalty to his "family" -- the close friends he has chosen (and who have chosen him), who will stick together in the face of any adversity. The other major redeeming quality is his simmering fury directed at abusers of children. The two come together in this book after Burke's girlfriend is killed at a gay rally and he goes on the vengeance trail, which of course leads him into the child abuse underworld. The primary flaw in this novel is the strained dialogue between Burke and an important secondary character, Nadine, who is a gay domninatrix with a bizarre sexual fascination with Burke. His tough-guy posturing with her is more or less in character, but it grows tiresome by the half way point, and continues unabated from there. Nevertheless, Burke is always a good read. As one of the other reviewers points out, however, it is hard to follow all the characters unless you've read the other books. I'd start with the first and read them in order. There is a linear development of the characters and plot that will make the book much more enjoyable if you know it going in.
on July 7, 2000
For whatever reason, this author's fiction has been steadily declining in quality for about half a decade, and this latest Burke novel to appear in paperback continues the decline. As has recently become usual, there's really no plot and the motivations of the supposed villains make no sense whatsoever. Even the time frame of the present novel makes no sense; references in a diary are essentially contemporary but we find toward the end of the novel that the diary must have been writen about 15 years before. The diary, by the way, is the best part of the novel, far more compelling than the (here purposeless) actions of Burke and his crew.
Vachss retains his distinctive, spare style; it's too bad he is apparently increasingly uninterested in providing content to go along with it.
on June 22, 2000
The story and plot are compelling as Burke faces his own demons, past nemesis, and present challenges to find the killer of gay-bashers. The only problem with the book is that it is as extreme as the extremism Burke complains about through the entire novel. NO ONE is this book has a normal name, job, or style of talking. Scene after scene of long-winded discussions where characters spend more time flinging cheap insults at each other than doing anything.
I have always liked Vachhs books, but sadly, as we get farther into Burke's world we get farther and farther from the real world. Although the moral dilemma and climax had moments that were compelling - the whole book made me ready for a reality check -- and a bowl of Moma's Sweet and Sour Soup.
on August 28, 2000
A fast-paced and dark descent into a fascinating story. When Burke's bisexual girlfriend is killed at a gay rights rally, he vows to find the culprit. When a serial killer starts murdering fagbashers and child molesters by using the killing motifs of a dead friend of Burke's, Burke wonders about how dead his friend actually is. This being the first book by Vachss I read, I was a bit confused about the characters, but it didn't daunt me from pursuing the story, rather it made me more intrigued about this Burke guy and his relations with his friends. What I most like about this book is the depths of the characters, they're fully fleshed and yet mysterious enough to warrant curiosity. After a couple dozen pages, I couldn't put the book down if I'd tried.
on August 10, 2000
Any book by Vachss is part of a crusade against the exploitation of children, sexually or otherwise. That is a worthy cause, and in addition, the books are good. In many ways, Vachss is an eye-opener. He takes readers to places which are so hideous that they are hard to imagine, and he tells those readers not to accept the foulness and cruelty that children all over the world must endure on a daily basis. "Choice Of Evil" confronts the moral problems that arise when a super-intelligent mind deliberately choses to be evil, and the ugly results of such a person's actions. The book is disturbing, but extremely thought-provoking, and on top of that, it is a serious page-turner. Vachss is never dull. This novel is not an exception to that rule.
on December 28, 2000
I decided to read this because I am a fan of Maggie Estep, and she is a fan of Vachss. The story line sounded interesting, and although I am unfamiliar with the characters in his books and this is not typically within the genre I choose to read, from the beginning I was fascinated. I was intrigued with the idea of Homo Erectus, and the rapture became more and more encompassing as the pages turned. The plot has many, shall we say, twists and turns. I was surprised at different revelations, but all I will reveal is that I was hooked, and I definitely recommend it. This work is very stimulating, with diverse and generally devious characters, descriptive action, and the plot is perfectly woven as is Vachss' wicked unraveling.
on February 10, 2001
A rally in Central Park to protest against gay bashing encounters a murderous drive-by resulting in five people down and two dead. One of the dead is Crystal Beth, Burke's girlfriend. Claiming responsibility is someone calling themselves "Homo Erectus". Burke is unsurprised when the cops pull him in for questioning because he is homeless, homicidal, a man gun and unable to find the shooters who killed his last chance at love. Choice Of Evil is a novel of the twisted workings of human hearts, the dark side of the human experience, and the bleak life offered marginal men and women caught up in webs of fear, bigotry, violence, and evil.