Goodbye Mr. Vachss

On the heels of Anne Rice and Joan Didion dying at the tail end of the year, I learned that another of my favorite writers, Andrew Vachss died, on December 27th. A man who wrote “hardboiled” crime novels, comics, short stories, song lyrics, and plays, Vachss was unique among his penning peers in his professional defense of abused children.


Vachss worked as a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and even directed a maximum-security prison for violent youth. He represented children and youth exclusively in his private law practice and was a founding member of the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection.


Of his 33 novels, arguably, the reading public knew Vachss best from his 18-book Burke books (where I first found the man) and his signature look; Vachss’s eye was injured at the age of seven and because of this he wore an eye patch and usually a stern, “I know what you did and I will out you because of it,” look in public life.


His books took place in an underbelly world of crime and revenge, with urban mercs enacting vigilantism on a Grand Guignol scale. His wonderful family of characters often hunted down child predators, and well before it became of virtue signaling value, he championed LGBTQ characters by writing them into his stories as much lead characters as anyone else.


His books also were heavily peppered with eroticism.


Here was a guy who knew how to mix genres while creating fiction that was undeniably his.


There was a time; I couldn’t get enough of the guy.


Vachss was married to Alice, herself a former sex-crimes prosecutor. She later became Chief of the Special Victims Bureau in Queens, New York, and wrote the nonfiction book Sex Crimes: Ten Years on the Front Lines Prosecuting Rapists and Confronting Their Collaborators, which became a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 


“When people tell me a warm, caring volunteer can ‘represent’ a kid, I tell them that the next time they need a root canal, go to a volunteer,” the man famously said.


Andress Vachss lived what he preached and wrote outstanding fiction from it.


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