Down Here (Burke Series #15)

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For years Burke has harbored an outlaw's hard love for Wolfe, the beautiful, driven former sex-crimes prosecutor who was fired for refusing to "go along to get along." So when Wolfe is arrested for the attempted murder of John Anson Wychek, a vicious rapist she once prosecuted, Burke deals himself in. That means putting together a distrustful alliance between his underground "family of choice," Wolfe's private network, and a rogue NYPD detective who has his own stake in the...

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Bone-crushing impact, set in a milieu that clogs your lungs and stings your eyes, Down Here is the penetrating and remarkable new thriller from the master of American noir.

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For years Burke has harbored an outlaw's hard love for Wolfe, the beautiful, driven former sex-crimes prosecutor who was fired for refusing to "go along to get along." So when Wolfe is arrested for the attempted murder of John Anson Wychek, a vicious rapist she once prosecuted, Burke deals himself in. That means putting together a distrustful alliance between his underground "family of choice," Wolfe's private network, and a rogue NYPD detective who has his own stake in the outcome.

Burke knows that Wolfe’s alleged "victim," although convicted only once, is actually a serial rapist. The deeper he presses, the more gaping holes he finds in the prosecution’s case, but shadowy law enforcement agencies seem determined to protect Wychek at all costs, no matter who it sacrifices. Burke ups the ante by re-opening all the old "cold case” rape investigations, calls in a lot of markers from both sides of the law, and finally shows all the players why "down here" is no place for tourists.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Burke is back with a vengeance, and with the full complement of underground irregulars who've populated his dozen or so previous noir adventures. For starters, there's Max the Silent and the Prof (short for both Professor and Prophet), Pepper, Mole and Michelle, street folks all, as well as the giant menacing rottweiler known as Bruiser, who protects the beautiful crime fighter Wolfe. No series offers a richer world of night people, or one as dark and brutal. For the Burke fan, plot becomes almost secondary to the immersion into Vachss's thrillingly seductive downtown Manhattan shadow land. But this installment has a terrific hook as well: Burke and company must come to the rescue when Wolfe, a righteous former prosecutor specializing in sex crimes, is framed for the attempted murder of one of the serial perps she once put away, a lowlife named John Anson Wychek. Vachss's prose is at its brittle best in his presentation of the case against the taciturn Wolfe, as well as Wychek's criminal past. At length, Burke learns that Wychek inexplicably has federal protection, and conceives an elaborate scam to snare him. Posing as reporter pal J.P. Hauser, Burke works his way into the life of Wychek's yuppie sister, Laura. This extended cat-and-mouse game (or perhaps Burke is falling in love?) has quiet depth as well as tension. Burke's an original, often imitated but never matched because Vachss keeps raising the bar. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Here, Vachss's antihero, Burke (Pain Management), returns from the "dead" to help a former colleague arrested for attempting to kill a suspected serial rapist. As Burke begins to pull in old favors and reveal his still-living status to select individuals, he discovers obvious holes in the prosecution's theory. The recent overturning of the alleged rapist's conviction makes all of his victims potential murder suspects. Old characters come back as Burke reminisces about his past and makes a surprising discovery about himself and his current life. Nothing particularly special here, but fans of Burke will want to read his latest exploits. For larger fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hard-boiled Burke (The Get-Away Man, 2003, etc.) gets all mushy over a damsel in distress. True, Eva Wolfe is no ordinary damsel. Once a high-profile, highly successful sex-crimes prosecutor, she got canned for refusing to go easy on a politically connected predator. In addition, she's the unrequited love of Burke's life, a lady who can reduce the vaunted scourge of Big Apple bottom-feeders to bleatings like this: "My love for Wolfe was a dead star. . . . But always, always there." Suddenly Wolfe is arrested and charged with the attempted murder of convicted serial rapist John Anson Wychek, who'd been set free on a technicality. So angered by this was Wolfe, her ill-wishers say, that she turned vigilante and pumped three bullets into him. But the bad don't die easily, and before lapsing into a coma, Wychek fingered Wolfe, whose efforts had sent him up. It's a Swiss cheese of a case, thinks Burke, unless something deeper and darker is involved. When he turns out to be right, it's time to summon the Burke Irregulars-Max the Silent, the Prof, and Mama-to dig and delve. If it's a job, says Mama pragmatically, show me the money. She doesn't see that the issue is love and the task to keep Wolfe from the slammer door. The narrative spine is a bit more collapsible than usual, but pace, tone, and atmospherics are all Vachss-grade.
From the Publisher
“Many writers try to cover the same ground as Vachss. A handful are as good. None are better.” –People

"His greatest literary accomplishment to date and his most powerful statement yet on the choice between good and evil." —The Jackson Sun

“Starting a Vachss novel is like putting a vial of nitroglycerin into your pocket and going for a jog. You just know things are going to get interesting. Usually sooner rather than later.” – Rocky Mountain News

“Vachss’s writing is like a dark rollercoaster ride of fear, love and hate.” – The New-Orleans Times-Picayune

“Vachss’s writing remains raw and hungry, with an epidermis of rage barely containing an infinite core of sadness.” –The Seattle Times

"Sheer narrative drive is only part of what has kept readers coming back for more. . . . [Burke] is a hero of our times . . . lord of the asphalt jungle." —Washington Post Book World

"Vachss's style is personal, laconic, shaded and, of course, creepy. If you like hard-boiled punk narrative, this is a read for you."  —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The Burke books make the noir-film genre look practically pastel. . . . The plot-driven stories churn with energy and a memorable gallery of the walking wounded." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"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

"Andrew Vachss continues to write the most provocative novels around. . . . It is difficult to write about a burning social issue and still keep the story at white heat, but Andrew Vachss does it seamlessly." —Martha Grimes

"The New York Burke inhabits is not borrowed from anybody and shimmers on the page as gaudily and scarily as it does on the streets." —New York magazine

Down Here is tautly written...ultimately triumphant. Burke is the uncrowned king of the lawless good guys, and Down Here will advance his legend.” –Bookpage

"Addictive. . . . A [book] no student of the human condition will want to ignore." —Huntsville Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400041732
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/13/2004
  • Series: Burke Series , #15
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social services caseworker, and a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for youthful offenders. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of numerous novels, including the Burke series, two collections of short stories, and a wide variety of other material including song lyrics, graphic novels, and a "children's book for adults." His books have been translated into twenty languages and his work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, the New York Times, and numerous other forums. A native New Yorker, he now divides his time between the city of his birth and the Pacific Northwest.

The dedicated Web site for Vachss and his work is

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Read an Excerpt

Somebody down here, boss. Asking for you." Gateman's voice, prison-whispering to me up the intercom, all the way to the top floor of a decrepit flophouse.

This dump has been scheduled for a foundation-up rehab for years. In the meantime, the housing inspectors turn a money-blinded eye, and any derelict with a five-dollar bill can buy himself twenty-four hours off the streets.

But not on the top floor. That one is permanently closed. Unfit for Human Occupancy.

That's where I live—unregistered and invisible. The only name anyone ever had for me was last seen attached to a body part in the morgue, before the City did whatever it does with unclaimed remains.

"Somebody" was Gateman's way of saying that whoever was downstairs had come alone...and he'd seen them before. If it had been a stranger, he would have reached under the raw wood plank that holds a register nobody ever signs. A concealed button would set off the flashers behind the dinner-plate-sized red plastic disks I have on the walls in every room of my place. That's only one of its custom features. Another is a private exit.

Anytime someone comes looking for me, it's Gateman's call. Even confined to his wheelchair, he's got options. Instead of the button, he could reach for the handgun he always keeps right next to his colostomy bag.

"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.

Negotiating the narrow flights up to where I live is no job for anyone with an anxiety disorder. You have to make your way past crumbling walls covered with signs screaming DANGER! ASBESTOS REMOVAL IN PROGRESS, dangling exposed wires, and puddles of bio-filth on the unlit stairwells.

It's a nasty trip, but Pepper made it in record time. She quick-stepped across the threshold, dragged forword by a barrel-chested Rottweiler she was barely restraining on a short, heavy lead.

The beast recognized me at once, treated me to his "Back the fuck up!" growl as he thrust his way into the room.

"Bruiser!" Pepper said, sharply. "Behave!"

The beast gave her a "Yeah, right!" look, but allowed her to walk him over to the futon couch.

She sat down, gave me a searching look.

I didn't say anything, waiting like I always do. Usually, Pepper dresses like a sunburst, to match a personality that could cheer up an AIDS ward. But this time, it was a plain dark-blue business suit over a white blouse with a red string tie, and her famous smile was buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa.

"Wolfe's been arrested," she said, no preamble.


"Last night. They picked her up at her house, in Queens. She's supposed to be arraigned—"

"Arrested for what?"

"Attempted murder, assault, criminal possession of—"

"Slow down," I told her, breathing shallow through my nose to drop my heart rate. "Start at the beginning."

Wolfe had been a career sex-crimes prosecutor, a veteran of no-holds-barred combat with the bottom-dwellers in the crime chain—rapists, child molesters, wife beaters. And, sometimes, with certain judges—the ones she called "collaborators" to their faces. A few years ago, she had gotten fired for refusing to soft-hand a "sensitive" case.

Wolfe wouldn't cross the street and represent the same freaks she used to put away. So she'd gone outlaw, and now she runs the best info-trafficking cell in the City.

I had wanted Wolfe for my own since the first time I saw her in battle. I'd had—I thought I'd had—a chance with her once. But I had done some things....

"You and me, it's not going to be," she told me then. And I believed her.

All that changed was what I did, not how I felt. My love for Wolfe was a dead star. Lightless, invisible in the night sky. But always, always there.

Pepper's big dark eyes told me she knew some of that. Enough to count on, anyway.

That's the way it is down here. If you can't be counted on, you can't be counted in.

"Here's all she could tell me on the phone," Pepper said. "Some man was shot, more than once. He's in a coma, and they don't expect him to live."

"So what connects Wolfe—?"

"He named her," Pepper interrupted. "He told the police she was the one who shot him."

"When was this supposed to have gone down?"

"I don't know. I don't know anything more about it, not even the man's name. All I know is they're holding her at the precinct, and they expect to arraign her tonight."

"She's got an alibi," I said, holding Pepper's eyes.

"She's got plenty of those," Pepper snapped back, telling me I was standing at the end of a long line. And those ahead of me would come across a lot better in court than a two-time felony loser who had been declared dead years ago. "That's not what she needs, right this minute. She needs to—"

"You got a lawyer for her yet?"

"No. I thought you might—"

"Did she tell you to come to me, Pepper?"

As if to answer my stupid question, the Rottweiler made a gear-grinding noise deep in his chest.

"No! All she said was to pick up Bruiser and make sure he was all right until they set bail."

"And you can make—?"

"I...guess so," Pepper said. "But I don't know a bondsman, either, except for that crook we used the time Mick was—"

"Never mind," I told her. "Do you know where the arraignment's going to be?"

"At 100 Centre. She said the...whatever the cops say happened, it happened in Manhattan, so..."

"Yeah." I glanced at my watch. Three thirty-seven. With the usual backlog from the Tombs and the tour bus from Rikers, they probably wouldn't get to Wolfe until the lobster shift, but I didn't want to chance it. "Give me a minute," I told Pepper.

I went into one of the back rooms and pulled a cloned-code cell phone out of its charging unit. I punched in the private number I have for the only criminal lawyer in the City I trust.

"What?" Davidson answered.

"You recognize my voice?" I asked. I hadn't spoken to him in years. Not since NYPD found a severed skeletal hand in a Dumpster, right next to a pistol with my thumbprint on the stock.

"I believe so." He spoke in the pompous voice he uses to distance himself from potential danger in conversations. "Help me out a little bit."

"It's not my ghost," I said. "I've done some jobs for you, and you've done some for me."

"Do you have some, uh, distinguishing characteristic I might recognize?"

"Yeah. I always pay. And that cigar I just heard you light, it's probably from the batch I brought you, a few years back."

"Very good," he said, chuckling. "You should have been a detective."

"I need a lawyer. Not for me. For a friend. Being arraigned tonight. Can you handle it?"

"Can I...? Ah, you mean, will I? Are we talking just for tonight, or...?"

"To the end of the road," I said. "First-round TKO, or a decision on points. Any way it plays."

"Would I know this 'friend' of yours?"

"Yeah. Her name is Wolfe."

"Wolfe from City-Wide? Are you—?"

"I'm cancer-serious," I said. "I'm also short on facts. It's either an attempt murder or, by now, a homicide."

"Wolfe? Are they floridly insane?" he said. "Unless you're talking a DV?"

"Domestic violence? Wolfe? Come on, pal. Sure, she's not the kind of woman who'd take a beating from a boyfriend. But with that dog of hers, what kind of psycho would even try? No, the vic was a stranger. But he supposedly made a statement."

"Named her?"

"What I'm told."

"Do they have forensics?"

"You know all I know."

"And we both know she didn't make a statement."

"Right. Can you get right over there? I don't know when they're going to arraign her, and—"

"I'll make some calls, see if I can find out," Davidson said. "But don't worry; I'll be there when they bring her over. I should be able to speak to her in the pens before they—"

"Listen. She doesn't know about this. Me hiring you, I mean. Just tell her Pepper set it up," I said, looking over at Pepper, catching her nod of agreement, "okay?"

"Done. My fee will be—"

"Paid," I said, cutting the connection.

"Do you know if they tossed her place?" I asked Pepper.

"They didn't have a no-knock warrant," she said. "When they pounded on the door, Bruiser went ballistic. She told them she had to lock the dog up before she could let them in—that kept them out of there for a few more minutes."

"How do you know?"

"That's how I found out about it. She dialed the office, and left the connection open while she talked to the police. And when she finally let them in, she kept the phone going. I have the whole thing on tape, what they said to her, everything."

"Did she sound—?"

"She sounded strong," Pepper said. "One of the cops, he didn't want to cuff her. Another one said it was procedure. Wolfe told him—the cop who wanted to cuff her—if they tried to perp-walk her she'd make someone pay for it."

That was Wolfe. "She drinks blood for breakfast," the Daily News once said of her, in an article about New York prosecutors.

"The cops were scared of Bruiser; but he wasn't even barking, once she told him to stop. The one who wanted to cuff her said if Bruiser made a move he was going to blow him away. Wolfe told them if they wanted to arrest her she was ready to go. And if they didn't, she was leaving, so they better shut up about shooting her dog.

"I heard the door close. Then I heard Bruiser making little noises, like he mourning. But he stayed, right where she told him. So I ran over there and got him."

"You did the right thing, Pepper. They'll be back to vacuum her place. If you hadn't gotten him out of there, it would have been a bloodbath."

"Yes. She called me later, from the lockup. That's when she told me about the man who—"

"But not his name, right?"


"Okay, don't worry. We'll get that tonight, at the arraignment."


"Go back to the office, Pepper. Put your crew on alert. I'm sure Mick is—"

"Mick is crazy from this," she said. "I've never seen him be so...I don't know what."

"Keep him close, then. If Wolfe wanted you to get anything out of her place, she would have found a way to tell you, right?"

"Sure. We have a code for—"

"Okay. I'm going to be carrying a cell phone twenty-four/seven until we know what's going on. Write down the number...."

Pepper gave me a withering look. Held it until I lamely recited the number. She nodded her head sharply, letting me know she had it...and it wouldn't ever be on a piece of paper.

"Don't show up at arraignment tonight," I told her. "Mick, either. You two, you're her hole card now."

As soon as Pepper and the Rottweiler left, I started working the phones. First stop was Hauser, a reporter I went way back with. All the way back to my old pal Morelli, the dean of organized-crime reporting in New York. A hardcore reporter from the old school, he had been covering the Mob for so long they probably asked him for advice.

Morelli was off the set now. He'd finally hit it big. After years of threatening to do it, he wrote a book, and it blossomed out sweet. He's been on the Holy Coast for a while now, tending the harvest.

But a pro like Morelli doesn't move on until he's trained new recruits. J. P. Hauser had been his choice.

"I ask the kid, go over and see this guy, supposed to be an informant, staying in some rat-trap over in Times Square," Morelli had told me, years ago. "This guy, his story is that he's got a bad ticker. So he wants to make his peace with God, give me all the inside dope on a muscle operation that Ciapietro's crew is running out at the airport. So I tell J.P., get me everything, all right?"

Morelli smiled, taking a sip of his drink. When we were coming up, he lived on Cutty Sark and Lucky Strikes. By then, he was down to red wine and off tobacco. "Okay, so, a few hours later, I get this frantic call from the informant. He's screaming blue murder. Said J.P. rips his place up worse than any parole officer ever did, takes the serial number from this guy's clock radio, looks at the labels in his coat, checks his shoe size.

"And then he whips out one of those little blood-pressure cuffs—you know, the kind you slip over your finger? Wants to see if this guy's really got a bad heart. You ever hear anything like that?

"J.P., he's a fucking vacuum cleaner, you understand? He's going to pull the dirt out until they pull his plug. I fucking love this kid."

Hauser wasn't a kid anymore. And he hasn't freelanced in years; he's got a regular gig with the National Law Journal now, mostly covering major tort litigation. I didn't have a direct line for him, but the switchboard put me through quick enough.

"Hauser!" he barked into the receiver.

"It's me," I said.

He went quiet for a second. Then said, "Not...?"


"I'd heard you were...back, I guess is the word. But I haven't worked the streets for a long time, so there wasn't any way I could know for sure."

"You don't need to be on the street for what I need now," I said. "Can you make a couple of calls for me?"

"I...suppose. Depends on what you want me to—"

"Nothing like that," I assured him. "You know Wolfe's been busted?"

"Wolfe? Get out of—"

"It's righteous," I said. "I wish it wasn't. All I want is to find out if the cops are planning to splash it. She'll be arraigned tonight. I need to know if there's going to be coverage."

"Something like that, it'll certainly make the—"

"I don't care about TV, or even the radio. I just want to know if there're going to be reporters in the courtroom. Especially veterans."

"Ones who might recognize you?"

"You wouldn't recognize me," I promised him. "I just need to know who's going to be watching, you understand?"

"There's a story in this," Hauser said, an apostle reciting the creed.

"Thought you didn't do crime anymore," I said.

"I spend all my time covering lawyers," he laughed. "How far away do you think that takes me?"

"The story is, Wolfe's being set up. I don't know anything else about it. Not yet, anyway."

"But when you find out?"

"It's all yours, pal."

"Call back in twenty minutes," Hauser said.

"Everybody's on it," Hauser said when I called back. "But the DA isn't making any statements...yet."

"So there'll be reporters on the set?"

"Guaranteed," he said. "Come on by and say hello."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2006


    Down Here is just another example of Andrew Vachss' fascinating novels. The stories are truly mesmerizing and hold one's interest from the beginning to end. The action is fast paced with no holds barred. The characters are intriguing and often lovable. Other characters are those you love to hate. I would recommend buying the hard cover versions of his books as they are real keepers!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2011

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