DOWN HERE starts off like a winning horse out of the gate at the Sweepstakes Race. Andrew Vachss really knows how to set the hook. Consider this opening:
"Somebody down here, boss. Asking for you." Gateman's voice, prison-whispering to me up the intercom. … "You get a name?" I asked.
"Pepper, right?" I heard him say to the visitor.
"Short girl, pretty, dark hair, kilowatt smile?" I asked.
"All but the last, boss," Gateman said. "And she's got company."
"What's he --?"
"It's a dog, boss. Big-ass Rottweiler."
That's when I knew the wheels had come off.
For several years now, Burke --- Gateman's "boss" --- has been believed dead by all but a discreet circle of people. Now his visitor, Pepper, brings him news that draws him to the surface once again. She explains that Wolfe, ex-prosecutor and long-time object of Burke's infatuation, has been arrested for attempted murder. The victim? None other than John Anson Wychek, a serial rapist Wolfe tried to put away, but whose conviction was overturned.
With no time to waste, Burke springs to action, assembling his motley crew: the Prof (short for the Professor or the Prophet, depending on your viewpoint), Max the Silent, Burke's little sister Michelle, and Mama, proprietress of a restaurant that does more than double as a front for Burke's strategizing sessions. A woman of few words, Mama does a formidable job of cooking and assessing situations.
Burke's entourage snaps to work interviewing Wychek's victims, looking for common threads. In addition to receiving a mysterious postcard recently, there are other similarities to their cases. In order to help Wolfe, however, Burke needs to actually find Wychek, who seems to have been spirited away by law enforcement types and is currently under tight wraps or, at the very least, is holding himself incommunicado. Burke believes his best chance is to shadow the rapist's sister in an effort to find him. Despite her wariness, he breaks through her defenses. She proves to be a good lead --- plus a captivating love interest.
All the while, Burke hurtles toward the stunning climax in his old muscle car, a '69 Plymouth Roadrunner with a lion under the hood and an exterior ugly enough to ensure anonymity. It doesn't merely transport him around; it brings out the rogue in him.
Vachss's mastery of dialogue moves the story along at breakneck pace. With unnumbered chapters consisting of single scenes, the book's rhythm transfixes its readers with a spellbinding compulsion. If I hadn't had a houseful of guests to cook for on the evening I picked up DOWN HERE, I would have finished it before dessert.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 21, 2011