Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: A BOMB BUILT IN HELL by Andrew Vachss


The whole thrust of Andrew Vachss's "fiction"—and, indeed, his life's work—has been to hold up a mirror reflecting back upon society the monsters it is producing every day by the abuses allowed against the young and the vulnerable.
A BOMB BUILT IN HELL was his first attempt to utilize crime fiction as a means to reach a wider audience with this message. The lean, tight prose that would become his trademark was very much in evidence and already honed to a fine edge. Wesley, his protagonist, an ice-cold killer forged by the kind of neglect and abuse Vachss wants the world to recognize for the danger it can create, is as chillingly memorable as any character you'll ever read about.
But for all that—for all the skill and passion that went into the message BOMB was intended to be—no publisher would touch it back in the early 70s when it was first offered. The overriding consensus was that it was simply "too" … too violent, too harsh, too extreme. And plot elements that included events like revolt in Haiti, the rise of Chinese street gangs, and someone entering a high school heavily armed for the sake of blowing away everyone in sight—waaay too outlandish.
All of the foregoing is detailed by Andrew himself in an Author's Note at the start of this newly released edition (available in both print and eBook format, from Vintage Books).
Yet, for too long, A BOMB BUILT IN HELL languished, largely unread and unheralded.
Vachss altered his approach (but never his aim) slightly, and went on to write the extremely popular "Burke" series, starting with FLOOD in 1985. Elements of BOMB, as well as the character of Wesley himself, were worked into the Burke books, most notably in BLUE BELLE and HARD CANDY. And the presence of Wesley, even though he was officially considered dead at the end of CANDY, was felt through the remainder of the series until its conclusion in 2008.

Still, Wesley's complete story needed to be told. In fact, the subtitle of A BOMB BUILT IN HELL is now "Wesley's Story". And while some versions of the novel (including a free download at one point, and a prior eBook) have been available before now, these Vintage versions mark its first professionally done edition.
Although something of a "period" piece now, BOMB has lost none of its impact during the intervening years. In many ways, it is as current as today's headlines.
Vachss's writing skill is just as powerful … And Wesley is every bit as chillingly memorable.
Strongly recommended. Don't miss it.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Have you read his non fiction book, The Lifestyle Violent Juvenile? Vachss said once that Bomb Built in Hell was basically that book rewritten as crime fiction. Same message. Different delivery system.

wayne d. dundee said...

No, I haven't read that work, Charles. It doesn't surprise me, though, as Andrew has freely admitted that he turned to crime fiction as a means to reach a wider audience with his message and that he basically as "one tale to tell" with his books: To open society's eyes to the horrors of child abuse/neglect and the additional horrors it can lead to.