cover image Blue Belle

Blue Belle

Andrew H. Vachss. Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95 (339pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57228-4

Burke, the private-eye outlaw with a big place in his heart for kids, is back. When the yuppie-hating horse-playing ex-con takes on the Times Square world of porn and murder, he finds himself facing a deadly karateka (karate expert) named Mortay and falling for a masochistic woman who's learning to deal with her past as an abused child. Burke's quest leads him through the seamy underworld that Vachss has nearly patented in Strega and Flood. Blue Belle often reads like parody of hardboiled detective novels. Short sentences. Punchy. Missing verbs. Yet without Chandler's originality or sense of humor. Though the dialogue has a cynical cast, there is not an ounce of moral ambiguity or ironythe evil child-molester/torturer/ killers versus Burke's family of misfits-with-hearts-of-gold, including a tough Asian matriarch, a tough would-be transsexual, a tough jack-of-all-shady-trades and a host of other gruff but goodhearted low-lifes, each with a redeeming mission in life. That lovable band of grotesques seems to have been drawn from some juvenile novel. The sex scenes, on the other hand, are explicit and a touch sadistic. Blue Belle lacks the jolting realism of Elmore Leonard or the hard poetry of Dash Hammett, yet Vachss's style pays off in the last quarter of the book, when an elaborate scam, a roller coaster of violence and an emotional bang all build to an abrupt climax that leaves the heart pounding. (September)