From the Publisher
"A gripping tale of evil, cruelty, retribution and love." -The Plain Dealer
"Choice of Evil is Vachss' darkest Burke yet, exploring man's propensity for savagery, ice-cold cunning and wearing thin the limits of sanity." -The Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi)
Before you go out and buy what sounds like the gay thriller of the year, be warned: If you're looking for the satisfaction of vengeance, you won't find it here. Vachss' killer turns out to have a whole other agenda besides righting gay wrongs. Too bad for us. It might be fun to read about a sicko who's on our side for a change.
Burke, the streetwise ex-con with a heart of gold and a unique code of honor, finds that life seems to be kicking him in the teeth. Somehow the cops have uncovered his latest hideaway and staged a raid while he was out. Not only has Burke lost his home, all his belongings, and his alternate IDs, the cops have hauled Pansy, Burke's aging but still intimidating Napoleon mastiff, off to the pound. After rounding up several members of his "family" the Prof, Max, the Mole, and Crystal Beth Burke pulls his own raid, descending on the dog pound and freeing not only Pansy but all the other canine captives as well.
A short while later, Burke is holing up in the home of his girlfriend, Crystal Beth, when she decides to attend a gay rally in Central Park. It turns out to be a fatal mistake: A drive-by shooting occurs, and Crystal Beth becomes one of two victims who die in the onslaught. Tortured with grief and fueled by a need for revenge, Burke takes a keen interest in a serial killer who starts racking up victims immediately after the drive-by, and who seems to be targeting anyone who has spoken or acted on a hatred for gays. The killer, who gives himself the moniker Homo Erectus in the manifestos he provides to the newspapers, quickly becomes a societal hero, and "H. E." is often spoken of reverently.
When a secret gay/lesbian group financed by an unknown benefactor hires Burke to find the killer, they claim that their only interest is in seeing the man escape from town and disappear unharmed. The killer's actions have had a resoundingly positive effect on the incidences of gay bashing, and the group recognizes the value of keeping him "out there" somewhere, even if he isn't actively seeking revenge. But Burke is wary of one member of the group, a very attractive woman named Nadine who attaches herself to him and his quest with a tenacity that's both spooky and puzzling. Yet she proves invaluable when she uses her own connections to provide Burke with some key evidence crucial to identifying Homo Erectus, so he keeps her involved, albeit at a safe arm's length.
After finding himself some new "unofficial" living quarters and ordering a new set of identification, Burke focuses all his attention on trying to smoke out Homo Erectus, whose killings have steadily escalated. H. E.'s protests take a turn when he starts campaigning against pedophiles who try to disguise themselves as gays. Then he concisely demonstrates his abhorrence of this group by killing dozens in one fell swoop when he blows up a plane carrying a group of pedophiles on a secret junket to the Far East.
Rumors are running rampant that the killer is the notorious and highly feared professional assassin Wesley, except that Wesley is supposed to be dead. Still, there are those who believe a mojo like Wesley's may come back in supernatural form to settle a karmic debt. Burke who knew Wesley better than anyone dismisses these speculations out of hand, but the killer's techniques do eerily resemble Wesley's, and there are indications that the killer has intimate knowledge of Wesley's life.
With the help of a cybergeek who attracts the killer's attention over the Internet, Burke finally establishes contact. What he learns then twists all his beliefs around, revealing a truth far more complex and disturbing than any he imagined. When Burke finally comes face-to-face with the killer, it provokes a startling and stunning showdown of the highest magnitude.
With a background that includes stints as a lawyer, a field investigator for the U.S. Public Health Service, and a social casework supervisor in New York City, Vachss is no stranger to the real-world horrors of child abuse and other crimes, and he makes no secret about using his writing as a social platform for his causes. He has created the perfect antihero in Burke, providing a vicarious outlet for the dark and vengeful thoughts that lurk in all of us. Vachss's stories are gritty, dark, and often painful but also compelling enough to get and hold one's attention. Like its predecessors, Choice of Evil is the perfect mix: a lesson to heighten public awareness cleverly disguised in a riveting tale that offers high entertainment and a satisfying sense of justice.
We follow Burke on a can't-put-it-down race to the fireworks of a spectacular conclusion....Burke lovers [will] feel warm and fuzzy all over. Great stuff.
In Vachss's (Safe House, LJ 2/1/98) 11th "Burke" novel, Burke's girlfriend is killed and others are injured in a drive-by shooting at a gay rights rally. Soon known gay-bashers begin turning up dead, and a mysterious stranger calling himself "Homo Erectus" claims responsibility. Burke is hired to find the elusive avenger by a group who wants to help HE (as he comes to be known) disappear before the police get to him. Burke's world is a perpetually dark place where being on the wrong side of the law isn't necessarily a bad thing, where "family" is more about who you trust than who you're related to, and where danger is always just around the corner. This series isn't for everyone. Some readers may find it too dark or too hard, but those who like Vachss's other works should enjoy this one. Recommended for large mystery/thriller collections.--Leslie Madden, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...Vachss strays the closest he's come yet into the supernatural....[He] explores the creation of a myth, how something can become real if enough people believe in it.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Vachss' fiction is so dark, the content so uncompromising, it makes most supernatural horror fiction look like soft pink and blue bunny rabbit stories by comparison.
...[A] scorching, mutilayered new crime novel.
Nothing gets to the stone-cold, steel-souled criminal/man-for-hire Burke -- except any threat to his self-chosen family. His fierce tribal loyalties include his Neapolitan mastiff partner Pansy. When the cops raid his hide-out home and take the dog into custody, Burke and his people free Pansy and a canine cohort from the animal shelter with the aplomb of professional terrorists. With Pansy restored to his side, the now-homeless Burke takes a step closer toward commitment to Crystal Beth, the woman of "purpose" with whom he aligned previously in Safe House. Life, however, is never happily resolved for Burke. The bisexual Crystal Beth attends a protest rally against gay bashing and is gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Burke can't come up with a clue to avenge his woman's murder and sinks close to the depressive state he calls "The Zero." Meanwhile, someone else goes after the bad guys in general. A mysterious killer, "Homo Erectus," starts taking down homosexual haters with a vengeance. His victims soon include a prominent pedophilia activist and Erectus begins delivering a message that separates homosexuals from pedophiles with deadly impact. The police want Homo Erectus, but those that lionize him also want to find him. They plan to help the killer disappear before the cops can grab him and Burke is hired to bring Homo Erectus to safety. Things get weird as the supposedly dead professional assassin Wesley -- a pivotal figure in Burke's history -- seems to be involved, or perhaps, it is hinted, Erectus is trying to raise him from the dead. The stakes get higher when the killer blows up an entire planeload of perverts bound for a "kiddie-sex tour" of Southeast Asia. Burke, assisted by a teen cybersleuth, finds a way to correspond with Homo Erectus and the story never slows, even as it careens into a computer screen narrative from the killer. Burke is assisted in various ways by the ongoing characters of his "family," including the redheaded witch Strega. An outsider is also involved -- Nadine, a self-styled sexually dominant lesbian who is almost as intent on getting into Burke's pants as she is on meeting the killer (whom she professes to love.) Nadine is an irritant to the reader as she never rings quite as true as Vachss's other characters. This flaw is eventually resolved when the killer is finally confronted in the flesh, but it slightly mars an otherwise fascinating book. Perhaps not as tightly plotted as Vachss's best Burke to date, Safe House, Choice of Evil still more than serves the author's constant purpose of exposing real evil while engaging readers with his savagely splendid dark fiction. Readers well-acquainted with Burke as well as those who are just now discovering the Cimmerian world he inhabits will be both disquieted and delighted by this latest from Vachss, one of the few writers around who understands the necessity -- and the art -- of doing both.
Burke, the investigator/mercenary with a heart as cold as Mike Hammer's .45, is hired to protect a serial killer from the cops. First, though, Vachss sets the stage by having the NYPD, responding to an anonymous tip, descend on Burke's off-the-books apartment, just missing him but pulling in his partner, the Napoleon mastiff he calls Pansy. Rounding up the usual suspectsthe Prof, Clarence, the Mole, deaf Max, and Crystal BethBurke liberates Pansy and a whole lot of other surprised dogs from an animal shelter. But the dancing turns to weeping when Crystal Beth, who's let Burke crash in her shelter for abused women, is gunned down during a rally in Central Park, apparently the victim of a drive-by gay-basher. It's a situation ripe for Burke's uniquely individualistic approach to morality, but this time he doesn't need to do anything, because an avenging vigilante has targeted gay-bashers. Identifying himself in his manifestos as "Homo Erectus," this gay-rights Unabomber keeps stepping up his campaign. After his execution of a prominent pedophilia activist ignites a storm of protest, he goes into high gear with a campaign to separate homosexuals from the pedophiles seeking alliances with them to cover their exploitation of the young (presumably Vachss's real axe to grind this time out), punctuating his jeremiads by bombing a pedophile junket to the Far East. Offered $50,000 by an interested client to bring in the killer so that he can be whisked out of the jurisdiction, Burke (Safe House, 1998, etc.) manages, with the help of a cybertracker, a self-styled lesbian dominant, and a blast from his own past, to trace the killer's m.o. to a professional assassin named Wesley.Wesley's been dead for years, thoughor has he? If the prospect of an extended rhetorical duel between tougher-than-thou Burke and his worked-my-way-up-from-kidnaping-children quarry doesn't get your juices flowing, you may want to sit this round out.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
It was almost three in the morning when she'd called, so I was outside her apartment house in fifteen minutes. I didn't like the doorman eyeballing me more than once, but I didn't see a way around it either. If he thought it was unusual for someone to be calling at that hour, he didn't show it . . . just rang up and got the okay for me to enter the elevator.
She must have been right at the peepholethe door opened even as I raised my knuckles to rap. The rose lighting was back on. Otherwise, the place was shrouded. "Go sit down," she told me, standing aside.
I gave up trying to solve the mystery of her three chairs and just took the middle one, letting her play any way she wanted.
She looked ghostly, floating across the room toward me. Barefoot, in a gauzy white robe that wrapped her bodya frame, not a cover. She took the nearest open chair, reached over, and pulled mine around so we were facing each other.
"I believe you," she said.
"Which means . . .?"
"I believe you wouldn't . . . do what you said. I believe you . . . Oh, never mind. Look, here it is, okay? She . . . asked around. Like you said. I don't know about this 'theory' of yours, but you're right about one thingthey have the men who did that drive-by."
"Found them, I should have said. They're dead. And one of the people killed in the crowdyou were right about that too. The police think it was murder. I mean, deliberate murder. The rest was only for . . . what do you call it? Camouflage? I don't know. But the cops say it was business. Professional business. They think they know who gave the order. That's what you want, right?"
"That's what I want."
"Well, I have it," she said.
"But you want to play with it first? Or you want me to place a fucking bid? What?"
"Why are you so . . . hostile?" she asked softly. "I've been nice to you. It was fun . . . flirting, right? I know you liked it."
"We've already been there," I told her.
"You really hate them, don't you?" she said, leaning so close I could feel her breath.
"Who doesn't?" I said, sloughing it off, staying clear of whatever was lightning-bolting around the rose-lit room.
"You should spend more time where I do," she said, an ugly undertone to her soft voice. "And you said to ask. You said it was okay. You told me to do it."
"What are you talking about?"
"My . . . friend. The cops. All that. It was easy, she said. They all . . . a lot of them anyway . . . they know you. Or about you, at least. I even know about those murdersthe ones in the South Bronx."
"Jesus Christ, that's the kind of sorry two-bit rumor your pal came up with? That story's a fucking fossil."
"I know what you think," she said, sliding the gauzy robe off her shoulders. "You think I'm trying to get you to . . . admit something, right?"
"That's why you keep taking your clothes off? So I'll see you're not wearing a wire?" I laughed at her.
I could see her face flush. Or maybe it was just the reflected light.
"I'm just more . . . comfortable this way," she told me. "I don't like clothes. I don't like people to wear clothes. It's another thing to hide behind."
"Yeah, sure. You spend half your life in a gym, you've got a beef with clothes? You're more confident without your clothes, that's all. Because you're an overmatch against most everyone else that way."
"I'll bet I'd be with you."
"No contest," I acknowledged.
"You don't want to play at all, do you?"
"I'm not a player."
"What does that mean? You don't have sex unless you're in love?"
"No. It means I smoke cigarettes but I don't light them with sticks of dynamite."
"You don't trust me?"
"I'd have to upgrade a cubic ton to distrust you," I told her, keeping my voice level. "You got me over here because you said you had what I wanted. Instead of giving it to me, you start asking me about some murders I'm supposed to have committed. I tell you I don't want to fuck you," I said, dropping my voice, letting a harder tone bleed through, "you tell me I'm a liar. I told you before: Behavior is the truth. What's the game? I say: 'Sure, you've got a body that would get a rise in a morgue,' and you say, 'Well, you're not getting any of it'? Would that make you happy? Is that your game? Okay, I'll pay that much, if that's what it takes. You're a gorgeous woman."
"But . . .?"
"But you can't get juice from marble," I told her.
"What does that mean?"
"How many different ways you want me to say it? You've got a stake in this. Not the same one Lincoln and those other guys have. Yeah, I know, you told me: You 'love' this guy. And you just want to protect him, right? Sure, fine. I'll buy it, that's what you want. And I played right along, didn't I? You think I'd turn him over to the cops for a pass on one of my own cases, then don't help. But you already did that, right? Checked me out. Found out some stuff. Enough to convince you that, whatever else I am, I'm not a rat. So here I am. And what do I get? Another strip show. More of your stupid teasing. And some questions about . . . bullshit crap that couldn't be your business."