The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

December 21, 2007

Book review: Audio version of 'Terminal' grabs from first word



Audiobooks aren’t something I listen to with great frequency. Although the Joplin Public Library has a large collection of them, available in a variety of formats — cassette, compact disc, MP3 and now Playaway — I usually only check them out when I need something to keep me company on a long drive. (Which can be dangerous. When I listened to David Sedaris read his collection “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” I laughed so hard that I nearly drove off the road.)

I tend to shy away from listening to books by my favorite authors until I’ve read them first. I prefer to be affected by the writer’s words on the page and my own imagination before I’m swayed by an actor’s interpretation. However, my busy schedule recently led me to pick up Andrew Vachss’ latest novel, “Terminal,” on compact disc.

Vachss, an attorney who exclusively represents children and teens, is highly regarded for both his writing and his dedication to protecting young people from victimization. Although he has written short stories, poetry, articles, essays and even graphic novels, he is perhaps best known for his crime novels featuring a protagonist simply named Burke, an ex-con turned investigator who works outside the system; the cases Burke accepts and the ways in which he resolves them are definitely not in keeping with mainstream society’s laws or morals.

In “Terminal,” the 17th Burke novel, this anti-hero takes on a case that brings him into contact with white supremacists, an extensive Israeli spy network and wealthy men who’d prefer to keep their past deeds buried. Literally.

Vachss’ writing has a hard-boiled beauty to it, often laced with dark humor and bitterness. Here Burke describes a bartender: “His eyes showed signs of life — I guessed somewhere around geranium level.” The novel’s urban setting gets the same treatment: “The Bowery station on the J line is what happens to a neighborhood once politicians realize the people who live there don’t vote. Caveman paintings lined the dingy walls. Like all artists who can’t afford new canvas, the taggers just painted over the ones they already had. The structural columns were so encrusted with layer after layer of graffiti that they were an inch thicker than when they started.”

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