This second entry in Andrew Vachss's new Aftershock series is another mystery/thriller written in the spare, distinct style that has become the author's trademark. But while the writing may be lean and spare, the complexity of the mesmerizing plot is anything but.
Once again we are drawn into the fascinating world of Dell, a former mercenary, and his wife Dolly, a former battlefield nurse. They have strived to make this world --- a new one for them, located in quiet coastal Oregon --- a peaceful, idyllic spot far away from the wars and conflicts they have, each in their own way, known in the past.
But that goal is disrupted one morning when a body --- skull shaven, torso covered with neo-Nazi tattoos, murdered in a precisely brutal manner --- washes ashore on a nearby beach. Although this poses no direct threat to Dell or Dolly, its proximity is nevertheless disturbing. Amplifying this is Dell's relentless devotion to loving and protecting Dolly; and Dolly's nurturing instincts toward the vulnerable about her. When an aging, homeless man from the area is arrested for the murder because he turns up with a watch traceable to the victim, Dolly becomes involved via Mack, the devoted lone worker for a local mental-health outreach program. He quickly points out a logical list of reasons why the unfortunate in custody, Homer, couldn't possibly have committed the murder --- but the cops and, more to the point, the weasel of a local DA are advertising the case as having been solved and won't be easily convinced otherwise.
Unwilling to stand by and see an innocent man railroaded while far more dangerous animals – the true killers - are still somewhere on the loose, Dolly turns to Dell, knowing the special skills only he can call on is what it's going to take to track down and deliver the real killers. Enlisting the gradually escalating aid and involvement of Mack, along with his other skills and contacts, Dell goes on the hunt with grim intensity. For Dolly, there is nothing he won't do, no stopping point until he succeeds.
The trail that leads Dell and Mack to who and what they are after, takes them through the layers of the homeless who live just beyond the perimeter of what the average person sees or knows, in and out of the poisonous pits inhabited by hate groups, riding the rails on the lookout for circuit riders or FTRA (Free Train Riders of America), and eventually into the corrupt depths of federal agencies where deadly secrets and even more deadly alliances have been formed and covered up for decades.
As usual with a Vachss book, there are multiple layers to be enjoyed. One can read it as a straight mystery/thriller – for which it is totally satisfying. Then there are also many intriguing historical facts and the spot-on societal commentary. And, infused through it all, there is the razor-sharp writing, a host of memorable characters, and the narrative power that forces you to keep turning pages.