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Hard Candy Paperback – July 4, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Vachss's fourth street-smart novel featuring an unlicensed, ex-con private eye known as Burke has the shamus trying to rescue an old flame's daughter from a cult in Brooklyn, while coping with the rumor that he has become a gun for hire. "Burke's turf--the sleazy underbelly of New York--springs to life in cinematic scenes," wrote PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The characters and events are as sharply defined as if they were etched in steel. The prose is short and choppy, like the ticking of a time bomb about to explode." —Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Torrid, gritty, frightening, compelling." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Burke fills a void.... With his soiled white hat, this Lone Ranger...asks difficult questions while shining light into the darkest recesses." —Chicago Tribune
"There's no way to put a [Vachss book] down once you've begun.... The plot hooks are engaging and the one-liners pierce like bullets." —Detroit Free Press
Top customer reviews
Hard Candy is clearly a sequel to the previous novel, Blue Belle, and I would not suggest going into this book without having read its predecessor (if you haven't read Blue Belle, don't continue reading this review, as it will have spoilers). The events of Blue Belle have thrown Burke into a state of depression; all his usual pleasures - sex, gambling, ripping off "freaks" - are unappealing to him. Revenge, however, still drives him.
In Blue Belle, Burke killed the vicious Mortay, but he was unaware that Mortay was also targeted for a hit by the Mob. The local don had hired an assassin named Wesley to do the job, but since it was Burke who did the kill, the don refused to pay. This had led Wesley on a vendetta against the Mob, and Wesley is very good at what he does. Burke gets caught in the middle and is also targeted by the Mob. This leads to an alliance of sorts with Wesley, a man Burke has known since childhood and who was for a time, Burke's idol.
Meanwhile, another childhood acquaintance, a cold-as-ice hooker named Candy, has recruited Burke to retrieve her daughter Elvira from the custody of Train. Train seems to be a force of good, taking in runaways and becoming a sort of cult leader to them. Burke senses something else, however, and Train is also a target for Wesley.
Unlike earlier novels, the other members of Burke's "family" have relatively limited appearances with the exception of his "brother", Silent Max. For as much as anything, this book deals with the bond between the two, a bond that was hurt because of the events of Blue Belle. Burke's attempts to fix things with Max and fix his own soul in the process are the real focus of this book.
When depicting his dark version of New York and its denizens, Vachss often walks a fine line between grimness and absurdity. There is something rather surreal about Burke's world, and at times I think this is a weakness in the series. Nonetheless, overall, Hard Candy continues Vachss's string of good books and should please readers of his earlier novels.
Burke, is in a deep funk after losing his woman. Before Belle died, she asked Burke to pay her debts. He does what she would have wanted. But he is still cold, empty, locked in an inner jail he can't walk out of. "Once I could always find something on the sweet side of the edge I lived on. It was gone. Even in prison, there were some things you could laugh at. That was then." Vachss continues to reveal more of Burke's character, his grim inner world and his past in "Hard Candy." He is one of the most complex protagonists I have encountered in popular fiction - edgy, dark, an outcast, as hard-boiled as they come, a scam artist who is a standup guy, a righteous man, and above all, a survivor. Burke, the man, and the strange folks who people his world and call him" friend," are what make me a faithful fan and keep me hooked on the series.
Word is out on the street that Burke, a sting artist, is now a gun for hire. There is heavy fallout from the rumor. The police hassle him and old friends, the kind he never wanted to see again, come out of the woodwork looking for him. First, Candy, an old flame from his reform school days, gives him a call - after all these years. "Little Candy. A whore in her heart, even then. Just what I needed to cheer me up." Candy is still a working girl - we should all be so successful - with mega-upscale digs and a fortune invested in her face and body - silicon implants, face lift, collagen injections, electrolysis, colored contact lenses, a wig in every color, a department store's worth of clothes, make-up, furs - more Neiman Marcus than Macy's. Can she be funding herself? What's her scam? Her teenage daughter, Elvira, dropped out of school and is with a so-called cult in Brooklyn. Candy wants Burke to bring her girl home. He agrees to check things out. In Brooklyn he meets the charismatic, soft-spoken Train, who maintains a safe-house for kids. Elvira is a member of his tribe. But is Train the real deal? Are the teens safer with him than on the streets? Burke has his own suspicions.
His involvement with Train reunites him with another acquaintance from his adolescence - Wesley, a killing machine, a robot with a resume of death to show for his life. Burke always wanted to be just like him, totally cold, emotional as ice. Wes warns Burke off his turf - he stepped over the line once, without knowing it, when he killed Mortay in "Blue Belle." Now Burke's life is on the line if he messes with Wesley's work again. Just to make things interesting, the Mafia is also on his case. And Strega, the witch he wanted to forget, contacts him with a request.
The usual suspects are all present, including: Max the Silent, a Mongolian warrior who calls Burke brother; Pansy is a warrior of another species - she's a Neapolitan mastiff and Burke's roommate; the Mole, a pasty-faced genius who lives in a bunker beneath a high-tech junkyard; the Prophet, a scam artist who speaks in rhyme; Mama Wong, group doyenne - a Chinese Jewish mother and restaurateur. She cares for the gang, takes Burke's messages, holds his stash and feeds him hot and sour soup; Michelle, a gorgeous transvestite who is about ready to go to Denmark for a life-changing operation; and the now famous souped-up Plymouth. "The Mole makes sure to change the car's color after it is used on a job."
As always Vachss narrative hits hard. His street tough dialogue and staccato-like prose lend authenticity to this raw, darker than noir world - a world where unspeakable horrors are perpetrated upon innocent children. The author, a leader in the child protective movement, calls it "a war," and considers his writing as powerful a weapon as his litigation. He openly admits that he writes about the abuse of children because he wants to raise people's awareness of what's going on, and he'll reach a wider audience with fiction.
This is a powerful novel - part of a superb series. Kudos to Andrew Vachss!