From Publishers Weekly
The suburban sojourn of the Manhattan outlaw PI Burke in Down in the Zero didn't breathe any fresh air into this increasingly stale series; this eighth entry is the weakest yet. Instead of one memorable villain, Vachss gives us two forgettable ones-both cops, one a vengeful male, the other a calculating female-in a plot fractured in other ways as well as Burke must figure out which of the two is a serial killer before he's slain by one or the other. Most of the series' regulars, from the underground electronics whiz, Mole, to the mute martial arts expert, Max the Silent, show up to help out, though seemingly more for the sake of nostalgia than plot function, while a new supporting player, a young Italian boxer, serves mainly as an excuse for an elaborate but irrelevant subplot about his climb toward a title shot. As always, Vachss ties the plot into his bete noire, child abuse, but the connection seems arbitrary. In its final pages, the narrative at last achieves some tension as a naked and bound Burke confronts the killer; but it's too little, too late. Burke, through his constant complaining about humanity and the city ("New York may be a woman.... If she is, she's a low-class evil bitch.... I hate it all so much"), comes off less as the dark angel of righteous vengeance of his earliest outings than as an aging, kvetching curmudgeon.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The recent installments in Vachss' series of novels featuring underground investigator and avenging angel Burke have almost become parodies of themselves, with our antihero devoting as much time to wallowing in the filth of urban life as cleaning it up. This time, though, there's a marked improvement. Burke seems healthier emotionally and more focused, and the novel itself is more of a mystery and less of a harangue. The action begins when Burke is approached by a female police officer, Belinda, who wants him to exonerate her lover, now serving time as a serial killer. Belinda contends that the real killer is still on the loose; her lover is a connected guy who probably deserves to be in prison, but he's no killer. So she says. She also pins the cover-up on Morales, a psycho cop with a desire to send Burke to prison for his role in the violent breakup of a child pornography ring. Burke employs his familiar Fagin's army of street types to discover the real killer and the real motives behind the crime. As always in Vachss' work, New York's underbelly is vividly evoked, and the tough-guy, side-of-the-mouth dialogue crackles with authenticity. The occasional rays of hope and humor that shine through the bleakness don't threaten the vintage noir mood, but they do make the proceedings a little easier for the beleaguered modern reader to bear. Wes Lukowsky