Larry Bassett's Reviews > Terminal

Terminal by Andrew Vachss
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Apr 30, 2014

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bookshelves: crime, mystery
Read from April 21 to 30, 2014 — I own a copy

This book is coming at the end of the Burke series. The first two pages are action packed as Burke continues to pedal his tough guy skills to make a buck for himself and his family. “I slid the length of rebar out of my sleeve, gripped the taped end, and took out his knee from behind.” But his old con games are no longer dependable as the times have changed so he forced to scheme in new ways.

Since this is the next to the last book in the series, I am like the cows going home to the barn: just moseying along ready to relax. I am both curious and impatient to come to the conclusion of this long and sometimes too complex journey called the Burke series. I am prepared for “not with a bang but a whimper” but hoping for something more satisfying.

Vachss spends a lot of page space making it OK for Burke to take on a job involving the thirty year old vicious rape and murder of a teenage girl. Sounds like a good thing for Burke to do, right? The problem here is that the person who wants him to work on this case is a dying white supremacist. Burke is best known for his exploits at bringing “freaks” to justice – people who are sexual predators against children. Pedophiles are a favorite target. In this case the guy who wants to hire him is a leader of the Arian Brotherhood, someone Burke knows from his time in jail. They have had a mutual understanding and respect in prison. While this guy has a lot of negative attributes, he is in some ways what Burke considers “righteous” in that he is a man of his word, his word is his bond, and he is no “baby rapist” slimeball. And while Burke is a killer when called for, he is a person with his own version of high moral standards! So taking a job for this guy is not a given.

The other thing that Vachss takes pains for us to understand is that one bottom line for Burke is the bottom line. That is, a major motivating factor is money. “You can’t be a thief unless you about the money. Nothing else.” He is looking for a work that pays. The more the better. This is a change from the early Burke who did the right things for the right reasons – for justice. He had some nobility and the fact that he made some money at it was not the main purpose. Now he wants to follow his principles but he needs to be able to support his family. What this Arian Brotherhood mate wants him to do is extortion. He can provide proof that the crime was committed by three rich boys (now men) who will pay millions to keep from being exposed. The AB character needs his portion of the millions to go to Switzerland to have his terminal disease cured. So here we have our principled protagonist being hired with the promise of riches, part of which will to save the life of this disreputable man but part of which will make work and money for Burke’s family. There is basic redirection of money from the very wealthy bad guys to the needy pretty-good guys.

This is Vachss and he has not completely lost his touch just because his hero has seemed to misplace his scruples. There are occasional short, snappy exchanges with the Vachss wit and wisdom.
”You’d make a good father, Gateman.”
“Probably would have made a good sprinter, too,” the man in the wheelchair said.
I tapped fists with him, acknowledging the recital of the truth we all learn: you play with what you’re dealt.
Then I hit the stairs.

Terry is a boy saved by Burke from the world of child sexual perversion who has become a young man and part of the Burke “family” who, while being trained in some of the perverse family skills, is expected to become a Citizen (regular law abiding person) and to go college and break away from the outlaw family. Some exchanges about this expected transition (expected by Burke; resisted by Terry) foreshadow what we know is coming – the end of the series.

There is often some technological marvel and some surprise at the end of the Vachss books. Terminal scores on both counts but still leaves me dissatisfied because I am really looking for the conclusion that will wrap of the entire series. Part of me just wants it to be over and I want some huge crescendo. Like I said, I want the bang! But I don’t quite get it. Three disappointed stars for this one as I come down to the wire with Burke. Will he end up with enough money to support himself and his entire family in retirement for the foreseeable future? Do I care?
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04/21/2014 marked as: currently-reading
04/30/2014 marked as: read

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