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Only Child: A Burke Novel (Burke Novels) Hardcover – October 8, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Andrew Vachss's series hero, an outlaw vigilante named Burke, is on the trail of the man who murdered the teenage daughter of a Mafioso whose secret affairs with a black woman and a gay crime boss make Tony Soprano's sub rosa relationship with his psychiatrist seem inconsequential. More accustomed to committing crimes than investigating them, Burke comes out of retirement and reunites with his New York family, a group of criminals who join him in a clever ruse to unmask the killer. The circuitous trail eventually leads to an underground filmmaker whose disturbing brand of noir vérité was responsible for the girl's death; as usual, Burke metes out vengeance with a steady hand. As usual, Vachss turns in a suitably dark, violent thriller with a strong narrative drive and an explosive conclusion. --Jane Adams

From Publishers Weekly

"Sherlock Holmes is dead," intones Giovanni, a New York Mafia boss who hires street criminal Burke-who's made a career of killing child murderers and molesters-to solve the murder of his illegitimate teenage daughter, Vonni. Indeed, the whole Vachss oeuvre (this is the 14th novel to feature the avenging angel Burke) is a reminder that Conan Doyle's fictional sleuth would be clueless in the violent, sordid world of today's hard-boiled mystery. Burke doesn't search for clues so much as extort them by combining street smarts, his formidable intelligence and a deeply rooted outrage at the victimization of the young. Burke's fans will be delighted that he's returned to his home turf-the gritty back streets of New York City-where he's welcomed into the bosom of his ragtag band of delinquent colleagues. The novel has a compelling plot line (like a police procedural without the police), but the narrative is far from seamless. There are a couple of false starts as Burke searches for something to occupy his time, and the references to earlier novels will probably baffle newcomers. More seriously, the elaborate ruse Burke executes to identify and trap the killer is barely credible. But the noirish prose (a man's eyes are "the color of old dimes") is a pleasure, and Burke is an antihero of the old school. Though it doesn't break new artistic ground for Vachss, the book is another harrowing glimpse of the urban underworld from an author who clearly knows his terrain and whose sympathy for the truly innocent-the children-is unstinting.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Burke Novels
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st American ed edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414879
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,734,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 youth exclusively. He is the author of numerous novels, including the Burke series, three collections of short stories, and a wide variety of other material including song lyrics, graphic novels, essays, and a "children's book for adults." His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, The New York Times, and many other forums. His books have been awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature Policiére, the Falcon Award, Deutschen Krimi Preis, Die Jury des Bochumer Krimi Archivs and the Raymond Chandler Award (per Giurìa a Noir in Festival, Courmayeur, Italy). Andrew Vachss' latest books are Mortal Lock (Vintage, May 2013) and Aftershock (Pantheon, June 2013). The dedicated Web site for Vachss and his work is

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Belinda Kameron on November 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the mid 1800s, Gustave Flaubert described France as a place where "the banal, the facile, and the foolish are invariably applauded, adopted, and adored." Flaubert's lament is an equally apt condemnation of early 21st century life in America, or indeed, much of the modern "developed" world.

I have never written a book review before. I have never read a Burke novel before either. The convergence of the two firsts is no accident. I loved this book, but from reading the descriptions and professional reviews before getting my copy, I didn't necessarily expect to even *like* it.

I'm not a stranger to Andrew Vachss' writing, having enjoyed all the comics, short fiction, and full-length novel "Shella." And Vachss is well known as the author of the Burke series, so most fans are presumably already closely acquainted with the characters I just discovered in fall of 2002.

"Only Child" has been promoted by pros and fans alike as the book "we" have all been waiting for, the one that sees Burke return to his native New York. And if you've ever read even a single review of any Burke novel, or any article about Vachss for that matter, then you already know that Vachss, and Burke, are both the ultimate New Yorkers. One review of the books I've seen stated that New York City is actually the "predominate character" of the entire series. For those people who are "fans" of New York, this is bound to be a draw, but Vachss' and Burke's fans come from all over the world. If you're one of those people who hated "Dead and Gone" and "Pain Management," and couldn't wait for Burke to get back to his home turf, then you've probably already ordered "Only Child" and need no encouragement to give it a shot.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By "alant_ny" on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here's the thing. Vachss keeps turning out the most realistic bad guys ever. After every one of his books get released, there's a story in the news about the Feds busting a gang of bad guys (and bad girls) doing just what Vachss warned us about.
Again, the characters in Only Child are bound to turn up on tonight's news. In his quirky and serious style, Vachss sets Only Child on Long Island, a densely populated suburb of New York City. Its bad guys who prey upon the (mostly) sanguine suburbanites are exactly the kind of predators that your Mom warned you about.
This is not a novel ripped from the headlines, quite certainly, it's the other way around. Tomorrow's headlines will, once again, be written about the real people behind the fictionalized characters in this book.
Only Child is another Burke novel. If you think you're getting tired of yet another one, don't worry. It's fresh, (in Vachss' punishing kind of way) it's twisted, and the ending plays out like a novel written with a sense of fairness in a decidedly unfair world.
Vachss writes dialogue like every writer wishes he could. No matter what crime/noir/verité writer you've been hooked on before, you never really get hooked until you've read Vachss.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Scott Morris on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm a slow reader. I finished Only Child in about 2 days. Vachss' writing is like a pitbull locking onto you - you just can't shake it loose. When one of Vachss' books hits the stores, I drop everything else to go get it and read it. Not many writers I can say that about, and there are several reasons.

Real characters that inspire true emotions from the reader, with depth and development across time; intricate plot line; sledge hammer prose; a perfectly-woven story - all are standard issue with any Vachss novel. I can't guarantee you'll like his work. I've heard people say it's too intense, too scary, too gritty, too real - but never boring, and never bad writing. Maybe those people were looking for a "light read," I don't know. This stuff is more like mercury. If you read one of his stories and you dig his work, you'll be hooked for life.
Because this man brings together two elements in his writing that make for a potent combination. First, Vachss is a warrior. Read his credentials on the sleeve of the novel, and you'll know - he's been there. He has lived the stories he writes - or has battled for people who have. Like any true warrior, Vachss stays with the mission until either the job is finished or he is. Vachss' war is against child abuse. His writing is one powerful weapon in that war. It has inspired legislation (see the CARE Act) and recruits an increasing number of soldiers to the cause with each new book.
Second, Vachss doesn't just have an inborn talent for writing. He is a master - and I mean skill, as you can only gain from practice. And like any true master, Vachss never stops becoming more skilled at his craft. Only Child proves that. Beautiful writing about an ugly subject.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Marc Ruby™ HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
When it becomes clear at the end of 'Pain Management' that Burke has decided to return home to New York many readers breathed a sigh of relief. Burke's pain at his losses had created a world that was too nightmarishly bleak, even for Andrew Vachss. If the silent crusader had remained, the call of the zero would simply have become too strong.
So the first part of 'Only Child' is a homecoming, one as joy filled as a Vachss story is ever allowed to get. Burke's family - Michelle the transsexual, Mama, the Professor, the Mole, Clarence, Max, Terry, and the countless others that Burke has helped all reappear. It is unusual to speak of love in the dark side of the city that Vachss' characters inhabit, but it is there, ready to lend one of the shadow knight all the strength he needs.
The case Burke becomes a reflection of Burke's one need for family. Two men, both important in the organized crime world come to Burke with a grim problem. One of them had and interracial daughter at a time that is organization could not tolerate that behavior. He gave in to his fears and detached from the woman, and now, 18 years later she is dead, stabbed repeatedly and the police are useless. Giovanni doesn't know if the killing was a sex crime or an attempt at getting to him, but he wants revenge. And he and his lover want Burke to find the killer.
The story turns into an intricate piece of detection, which is rare for a Vachss novel. In order to penetrate the world the girl lived in, Burke must hatch scheme after scheme, including an outstanding effort as a casting director. This is really one of Vachss more interesting plots, a shade less noir than usual. Think of it as an anti-heroic procedural.
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