Thursday, May 16, 2013

MORTAL LOCK by Andrew Vachss

This collection of 20 short stories and one original screenplay proves two things:
One, nobody writes tight, tough, powerful crime fiction any better than Andrew Vachss; and Two, despite the core purpose of his writing having always been to serve as a vehicle for carrying the message and truths of his central life's works -- i.e. to protect our society's young and vulnerable by impacting laws and perceptions and shedding light on the predators who prey upon these victims, thereby perpetuating a cycle of violence by "creating our own monsters" -- Andrew's skill as a pure writer and stylist, always being honed and expanded and experimented with, has never been on better display.

For starters, the sheer range of stories, as far as the span of settings, plots, and characterizations that they incorporate, are imaginative and impressive. One story ("Postwar Boom") reaches into the noirish past; another ("Underground") looks ahead into a grim future. The distinctive voices incorporated into the individual narratives as well as the different characters are spot-on and indicative of a writer always reaching, always stretching, never settling for a "comfort zone".
True, a number of the stories have urban jungle backdrops that Vachss is probably most closely associated with. But others are dark slices of suburbia, science fiction/horror, mysticism, and betrayal and sacrifice found in remote villages far removed from any steel and concrete urban sprawl. Vachss's popular Cross character is featured in one of the stories, "Profile"; and the character Veil is teamed with Joe Lansdale's rowdy Texans, Hap and Leonard, in the raucously entertaining "Veil's Visit".
The final and lengthiest entry in the collection is the aforementioned original screenplay, "Underground". Following along may take some getting used to for those unaccustomed to reading a screenplay format, but getting into the flow is worth the effort. The tale is set in a futuristic subterranean world -- a dystopian world, if you will -- of violent gangs and strict boundaries. It sets a dark and gloomy outlook but, in the end, it ultimately teaches that even under the dimmest, grimmest conditions, love and hope can blossom.

If you've never read Vachss before, then this is a fine place to start -- a sampler to discover what can be found in the rest of his work. I'm betting that MORTAL LOCK will have you seeking out more.
For those already familiar with Andrew's work, well, this will serve as a reminder of why his byline keeps you coming back.

Strongly recommended.


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