Strega by Andrew Vachss
I’d heard Vachss mentioned many times as a sort of dirty heir-apparent to the mean streets of Raymond Chandler. And he is, though his streets are much, much meaner, and instead of being an entertainer first and foremost, Vachss is a crusader of sorts.
Andrew Vachss is a strange and quirky defender of sexually abused children. And dogs. He spent years as the Chief of the Special Victims Bureau in New York and is married to another Chief of the Special Victims Bureau, who shows up as as the she-crusader, Wolfe, in many of these novels. In addition to writing extremely hard-boiled crime fiction like the twenty novels I’m ‘bout to tell you ‘bout, Vachss and his lady wrote books like: Sex Crimes: Ten Years on the Front Lines Prosecuting Rapists and Confronting Their Collaborators, and The Life-Style Violent Juvenile: The Secure Treatment Approach. I didn’t read these.
Strega kicked off my January/February twisted love affair with Burke.
Burke, our violent, self-righteous, vigilante felon is an avenging dark angel. He spends his time rescuing child prostitutes in the nasty Times Square of the eighties, scamming, punishing, and murdering various types of exploiters. He has a “family” of racially diverse misfits, from the brilliant Mole (his version of Q), Max, Mama the Chinese mafiosa restaurateur, the Prof, and of course, his dog.
The streets Burke knows so intimately are urban dystopia, where rain, neon, semen, blood, and exploitation form a patina over the top of Vachss’ cropped prison-yard language. Makes Chandler look like Walt Disney, to be honest. These are dark roads.
In Strega, Burke is hired by an aging mobster to put the hurt on a pervert who is blackmailing a woman named Strega. Burke and his friend Max the Silent, the Mongolian martial arts master, fuck the guy up pretty good, and Burke gets involved with Strega. Strega is a witch, or at least she thinks she is. She’s got sexy powers, but is also clearly a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Burke tracks down the abuser (hint: he’s been mentioned in this paragraph!)