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Hard Candy Paperback – July 4, 1995
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The Amazon Book Review
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"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
From the Inside Flap
In this mercilessly compelling thriller, Burke--the private eye, sting artist, and occasional hit man who metes out a cruelly ingenious vengeance on those who victimize children--is up against a soft-spoken messiah, who may be rescuing runaways or recruiting them for his own hideous purposes. But in doing so Burke becomes a target for an entire Mafia family, a whore with a heart of cyanide, and a contract killer as implacable as a heat-seeking missile. Written with Vachss's signature narrative overdrive--and his unnerving familiarity with the sub-basement of American crime--Hard Candy is vintage Burke.
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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.