Review

Two Trains Running

by Andrew Vachss



Fans of Andrew Vachss will find in TWO TRAINS RUNNING the danger,
menace and violence they have come to expect. But this latest
effort offers something extra: an exploration of some disturbing
truths --- that history is written by the victors, that the victors
are not necessarily the good guys, and that they get away with it
because few people are willing to ask the tough questions.

TWO TRAINS RUNNING is set in 1959 in the fictitious town of Locke
City, a former factory town that has managed to avoid drying up and
blowing away thanks to those unique human traits that make vice and
corruption such reliable investments. That Locke City's economy
works at all is entirely due to the efforts of Royal Beaumont, a
good ol' boy whose wheelchair is the throne in a vast criminal
fiefdom. If money changes hands in Locke City, you can be sure that
Beaumont is getting his slice. But Beaumont's empire has come to
the attention of outside forces that include the East Coast mafia
and Irish gangsters with IRA connections. Feeling threatened,
Beaumont responds by bringing in Walker Dett, whose expertise
extends beyond simple contract killing to include a genius for
strategic thinking.

While TWO TRAINS RUNNING features an extensive cast of characters,
Walker Dett stands out as the most memorable --- and the most
sympathetic. This will come as no surprise to regular readers of
Vachss's crime fiction. Vachss has a knack for creating characters
of extreme menace who nevertheless are complex human creatures in a
quagmire of a world where morality is malleable and the only
absolutes are life and death. It is difficult not to respect the
ascetic dedication Dett applies to his unpleasant craft, from his
monkish physical and mental discipline to the extraordinary insight
into human nature and behavior. Dett is made all the more
memorable, and all the more human, by his less than adept
interaction with the genuinely virtuous and good-hearted Tussy, the
waitress who becomes the willing focus of his highly chivalrous and
noble romantic intentions. Like many other Vachss characters,
Dett's troubling personal history provides the motivation for his
unusual evolution as a complex anti-hero in an even more complex
plot.

Walker Dett is at the center of what is essentially a political
thriller, one that has the mob boys, the Irish gangs, and other
underworld forces united in an effort to deliver the vote --- by
any means necessary --- to insure the victory of an unnamed
Democratic candidate (the time frame and references make it obvious
that the candidate is JFK) in the 1960 presidential election. But
Royal Beaumont's skepticism and mistrust threaten the scheme, and
he leverages Dett's skills to try to thwart what he believes is an
attempt to seize control of his empire.

But Dett has his own plans. As he explains, he is a kind of stone
in the pond, sending out ripples that, by careful calculation,
inexorably affect the world around him. Dett's secret and his
ultimate personal mission bring to mind certain elements of THE
MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, the kind of stuff that keeps conspiracy
theorists in business and makes blissful ignorance so
seductive.

In the end, TWO TRAINS RUNNING is something of a call to action.
Whether you buy into Vachss's take on late twentieth century
history or not, he wants you to give very serious consideration to
the idea that the principal responsibility of citizens in a
democracy is the absolutely essential need to take nothing at face
value, history in particular. Andrew Vachss wants you to fulfill
your patriotic duty to ask the uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even
dangerous questions.

Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 24, 2011

Two Trains Running
by Andrew Vachss

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 1400043816
  • ISBN-13: 9781400043811