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A Bomb Built in Hell: Wesley's Story

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  470 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Before Burke, before Cross, Andrew Vachss created Wesley: a ruthless assassin who would stop at nothing to take out his targets. A BombBuilt in Hell is Wesley's story.
While doing extended time for killing a fellow prisoner, Wesley meets Carmine Trentoni in a New York state prison. Carmine's life sentence hasn't cut him off from his outside sources, and he sees great pot
ebook, 304 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 2000)
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Sean Owen
Jan 30, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading a lot of thriller/crime type books lately. It's not a genre I normally gravitate to. I have a second job that isn't all that demanding and affords me the opportunity to read while on the clock. I've tried reading more serious books and the constant interruptions and distractions at work make it all but impossible to focus on the book. I figured I'd try some books that were a little less demanding and more plot driven. I'm now wondering whether I just don't like the genre or if ...more
Amy Lignor
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1973, this is one of those novels that’s both intriguing and hard-to-take at times due to some of the in-depth and bloody descriptions. This is not a slam, by the way, this is a real ‘shout-out’ to the writing ability of this author.

Wesley is our main character and is not new to Vachss’ readers. After spending many years in prison, Wesley is now a fabulous hit man. (If you can use that adjective when describing this occupation.) Going back in time, Wesley was a juvenile delinquent who
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vachss' goal with this book was to do a case study without footnotes and he did so. This is a case study into what can create killers and what happens when the monsters are made. That said until the end you feel for Wesley and are cheering him on to a degree.
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Kevin at Open Books
Shelves: signed-by-author
"Andrew Vachss makes other crime novels/shows look like Teletubbies." ~ Kevin Elliot introducing Andrew Vachss at Open Books

Ok, so for two weeks leading up to Andrew Vachss' arrival at Open Books back in November, Kevin Elliot the book store guru at Open Books, kept saying how much he enjoyed this author and was so happy to have him come back to Chicago to do a reading at Open Books again.

I had not ever read a book by him, nor had I met him, so I figured I would be a book store volunteer that ni
Tim Niland
Nov 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
Before Burke there was Wesley (an omnipresent character alive or dead in the subsequent Burke series) and this book, originally written in 1973 and rejected by every publisher Vachss brought it to, was Wesley's story. Finally made available in digital format, it's a dark and brutal tale that shows Vachss' style already finely honed. Parentless child Wesley moves through a series of foster homes before being sent to Korea in the US Army as a plea deal to avoid jail. During the Korean War Wesley b ...more
Diane S ☔
I think this is actually the first book Vachss wrote but could not get it published. I think Wesley is probably one of the uniquest characters in fiction and in this book we find out how he was trained, in prison, and what he did when he got out. Plenty of action, much violence which is to be expected and a good thriller as he takes on the mob and finds his place.
Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm torn between 1 or 2 star. I opt for 2 because the first 1/4 was interesting and progressive. The next 2/3 was plain weird and lacking sense. That leaves 8% and the end left me speechless. 3 of 10 stars
Zak Mucha
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whoever put this book up (neither the author nor the publisher) has both the book title and the author's name incorrect. It should be: A Bomb Built in Hell by Andrew Vachss.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
A curious read, interesting as an exercise in witnessing a first-time writer flexing his chops. Written before the birth of Burke, Bomb wants us to believe there is no hope for reclamation in a corrupt penal system, and only the smart, well connected wise-guys will prevail, molded to wreak havoc on the world. The characters don't have the depth of Vachss later works but that can be overlooked in this first effort, which never saw the light of day until Vachss had achieved substantial commercial ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book hits you in the stomach like a pile driver. It is Wesley's story and Wesley makes Burke look like Snow White. Wesley is nothing less than an example of the system that formed him. He is a Stone Cold Killer.
The book was written in 1972 and was then considered nonpunishable, it was too graphic and too violent. Yet a story in the book, might be ripped out of today's headlines.
Neil McCrea
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I know this: it's gonna be right here -- no more of this overseas stuff. Right here, right in our own country."
"It's not our country."
"Then whose is it? If we can't have it, maybe nobody should have it."
"Nobody can blow up America, Wesley."
"Right. But I can sure as hell make them think somebody can."

Here we finally have the legendary/infamous lost Vacchs novel, and it's everything I've ever loved about his writing without all of the baggage that comes with long running series. The novel was wri
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This author is a lawyer who has specialized in child abusive situations for years. He has only represented children only for some time. He wrote a series revolving around Burke, a survivor who never knew his own family and grew up in the state system. The author has a real flair for portraying the natural spunk of kids making do and making things work for themselves in impossible situations. Burke and other some other survivors rather developed their own "family" with strong affections and loyal ...more
Evangeline Jennings
I see some readers criticising Andrew Vachss' writing style. I don't understand that at all. His prose is as tight and brutal as the world he is describing. It's completely at one with the rhythms of the story.

The problems with A Bomb Built In Hell have nothing to do with Vachss' technique. They come in two plot flavours.

First, Wesley is a recurring character in and touchpoint for Vachss' landmark Burke series. Yet this story - originally written before the first Burke - does not sync with the c
The main character of this novel, Wesley, was an intriguing character. I liked this book, but would have liked "more". All the actions are detailed, sometimes coming so fast that I couldn't be 100% sure why they were killing this one or that one, such as blowing up the methadone clinic, but the one thing that really kept me from giving it 4 stars was the lack of insight into Wesley's mind. Sometimes you get insights into who he is such as when he is talking to Carmine, Pet or The Kid but those g ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Andrew Vachss writes about the least among us and his main creation, Burke, is a warrior for children-wronged. I have only read a few books about Burke (and too many years ago) so maybe I have it wrong. Vachss wrote this book before "Flood" and all that came after. It wasn't published because it was too 'dire', or at least so it's reported. After reading this book I don't buy that. This is Wesley's story. To call him an anti-hero is to cut him way too much slack. He is a sick, twisted madman who ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though this book is a work of fiction, it is also a work of truth. Andrew Vachss is an analyst, he's able to precisely assess political and social systems and his books always deal with larger issues than the simple plot of a story.
What scared me the most in this book, was not Wesley. Even though he's one of the coldest protagonists I've ever "met". No, what scared me, is that even though this book was written in the 1970's, there are major social and political issues that haven't changed i
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-loan
Dark and violent, which is pretty much what I expect from a Vachss novel. It doesn't have the same sharp, clipped style I have come to love from the Burke series, but the story was an interesting look at Wesley's character development. Very disturbing read, as we are watching the shaping of a murderer, which is not quite the view I have of him in the Burke series. Assassin, yes; but this disregard for human life is not what is the most gut wrenching. The most disturbing thing is the apparent lac ...more
Michael Fredette
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Bomb Built in Hell is Vachss's first novel, written in 1972 and not published until forty years later. It was apparently rejected by numerous publishers for being 'unrealistic' which is ironic because it proved to be a very prescient novel. It tells the story of Wesley, a street kid coerced by the courts into joining the army and serving in Korea where he learns to survive by killing even men ostensibly on 'his side' (including an American sergeant leading them to death). Wesley is given a dis ...more
Anthony Annucci
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As another review said, this book should be read with the understanding that it was Mr. Vachss first novel and that many of it's elements were refined and included in the long-running and brutally hard-hitting and educational Burke Novels.
The truly terrifying thing about this novel is how prophetic it was. The novel was written in the 1970s; long before Columbine and the many similar horrors that have occurred since. It is like Mr. Vachss always says; We make our own monsters.
Unfortunately, ou
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A release of an old Vachss novel, "A Bomb Built in Hell" is the story of Wesley, the ice man ghost killer from the Burke series. I'd been wanting to read this book for years since I first heard Vachss talk about it at a Barnes and Noble book signing in 2003. Man, do I ever miss Burke, the Prof, Max the Silent, Michelle, The Mole, Terry, and Clarence. They aren't in this novel, but it clearly sets the stage for the Burke books. The ending of the novel will cause some wincing in light of current e ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Terrible. I have never read anything by this author before but apparently this was his first novel written in the 70s but not published until recently. The prose is written on a grade school level. Took about 3hrs to finish the entire "book." Considering the content and the current political climate regarding mass shootings and children the library should probably ban it. Some kid might get the wrong idea and attempt to follow the blueprint for a Columbine-esque mass shooting laid out at the con ...more
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hard-boiled
The book of Wesley, and the pre-cursor to the Burke books, it is best understood as an experiment which led to the refinement of the Burke series. Although I enjoyed it, I would suggest that is really for completionists. I had already finished the first dozen or so Burke books and Vachss' short fiction when I read it, and the ragged edges of a first novel showed, but it was instructive to see how the characterization and themes had evolved. Definitely not the first Vachss book for anyone to star ...more
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well I'm not done yet, but I must say I'm not disappointed. I read "Shella" a while back and was utterly enthralled and disturbed at the same time. Vachss has this uncanny way of describing the most brutal of human actions with such nonchalance that I've had to go back and reread several passages just to convince myself that Wesley, the cold-blooded antihero, really just did that. Not for the faint of heart. At all.
John Grazide
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wesley, Wesley, Wesley. It's a little odd reading this, knowing it precedes all the Burke novels. And knowing some of the scenes in this book were used in Burke novels didn't take away at all - in fact it made it better.

Unless, Vachss writes another Burke novel (and we know he isn't going to) this wraps it up.

A definite must read. Maybe it can be released in a limited edition hardcover? Maybe?
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Vachss intensity is clear and bright here. He, and his characters, understand people and themselves in ways that you wish they didn't. You'd sleep better if you didn't know, anyway.

I'm trying to figure out how Wesley's story fits in with the Burke books. I probably shouldn't try.

I've got some ideas.

What was the Kid's name, anyway?
Mar 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved being immersed in Burke's world again, even if it really wasn't Burke's world. Don't get me wrong, his new series is OK, but it will never equal the raw grittiness of Wesley and Burke and all the rest.

My only complaint was that I would have loved to have more of Wesley's past.

But that ending? Chills, man...
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Andrew Vachss, crime/noir fans
This is amazing, amazing stuff and is available online as a free download. Written in 1973, it was never published, failing to attract enough interest (and accused of being "science fiction"). This novel tells the story of an ice-hearted hitman living in 1970's New York. Utterly brutal and relentless.
Erika Van
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So good... not for beginners though... incredible that this was his first novel, not surprising that no one would publish it in the early 70s.
I love Andrew Vachss, the Burke series in one of my favourites, so good in fact that I have not read the last 2 books because I don't want it to end! Just a bit crazy ;)

Feb 15, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I was intrigued by the description of the book when I was searching for any other Vachss on Kindle and was not disappointed in it. I rather like its stark text and bleakness, the ideas presented of a near perfect criminal and his code and can clearly see how Flood was developed from this. Well worth a read if you like his other novels.
Gilbert Wilcox
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book about loyalty in a violent world, filled with characters seeking revenge who end up carrying it to extremes in a very cold, methodical way until their time is up. The ending is abrupt but well planned, the loyalty ensured to continue, as the next generation watches in awe, ready to continue the work.
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Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of numerous novels, including the Burke series, two collections of short stories, and a wide varie ...more
More about Andrew Vachss...
“Stealing to eat ain’t criminal—stealing to be rich is.” 70 likes
“It isn’t much use writing slogans on a wall if you plan to total the building.” 6 likes
More quotes…