He wears an eye patch, and he spends his days as a do-gooding lawyer representing children -- yet he spends his nights hip-deep in the sordid, violent world of crime. Are we sure that Andrew Vachss isn't a superhero?
Well, no. But maybe we'll get closer to the truth at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 7, at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue; call 314-367-6731 for more information), where he'll be signing his latest novel, Two Trains Running. We do already know that Vachss writes some of the goriest hard-edged crime fiction getting mainstream publication today. In books like Shella, he displays a prose as compact and sharp as a boot knife. The sparse style might explain how Vachss has managed some twenty novels (among other fiction and nonfiction works) while holding down a day gig. And his career defending kids soaks into every page: Sexual abuse is a common theme, especially childhood traumas that suck the emotions out of grown-up killers. Even when Vachss turns the evil down a notch -- as he did with his 2003 pulp re-creation, The Getaway Man -- there's still sure to be bad sex and worse violence in just about every chapter. Vachss writes beach books for the shores of Hell. (Oh, that belongs on a dust jacket.)
But with Two Trains Running, the author has widened his scope and expanded his repertoire to tell the story of a corruption-filled town in 1950s America. Crammed with as much underground politics and conspiracies as The Cold Six Thousand (a similarly ambitious novel from rival James Ellroy), Vachss' latest mixes turf wars and vice dens with racial tensions, the IRA and the FBI, leaving the world of "crime" to explore power in all its guises, masked or not. It's nice to see Vachss take on a few bigger thugs, but hopefully he won't lose the touch for turning out a potboiler now and then.