Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Their Influence Was Felt

A reader reminded me yesterday that I hadn’t yet mentioned the passing of attorney and author Andrew Vachss. He died on December 23 at age 79, with one last book still to be published.

The Gumshoe Site notes that New Yorker Vachss “was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, and a labor organizer and a prison director for violent juvenile offenders before becoming an attorney for abused children and adolescents. He wrote his first novel, Flood (Donald I. Fine, 1985), introducing ‘outlaw investigator’ Burke and his gang, which was nominated for the 1986 Shamus Award for best first novel. The Burke series ends with Another Life (Pantheon, 2008). He wrote The Cross trilogy and the Dell and Dolly trilogy and several standalones and a number of short stories.”

A pop culture Web site called Bleeding Cool says, “Vachss’ fiction is possibly the most hardboiled crime fiction ever written, and not just the macho empowerment fantasies that appeal to men. … His [books] served as gateway drugs to call attention to the horrors of child sexual abuse and the predators who commit [those crimes]. His prose style was increasingly terse, almost haiku-like, and unsentimental, though his stories were often at heart romantic and filled with heartbreak underneath the brutality and horror. Vachss’ main characters were urban mercenaries and vigilantes who worked outside the system with found families, all survivors of the penal system and many of them survivors of abuse themselves. They hunted down child predators without mercy, and often as part of a job, but their hatred of predators lent their missions an extra vehemence. He was also an early LGBTQ ally, often featuring LGBTQ characters as sympathetic, fully-rounded human beings in his stories without ever othering them.”

I remember reading several of the early entries in Vachss’ 18-book Burke series, but eventually moved on. Years later, I met the eye-patch-wearing author during a large book event in Seattle, and was put off by what I interpreted as his arrogant posturing and his obvious displeasure at having to be part of a discussion panel with fellow novelists. Other folks, I’m sure, had better interactions with him. He certainly merited attention, both for his breadth of work—from books (both in the crime-fiction and science-fiction arenas) to comic books—and his passionate advocacy for the victims of sexual abuse. Steve Powell explains in his blog that Vachss was instrumental in President Bill Clinton signing the National Child Protection Act of 1993 into law.

A posthumous Vachss thriller, Blood Line, is due out on January 19.

* * *

Meanwhile, Janet Rudolph alerts us to the demise, on January 8, of journalist-turned-novelist J.J. Lamb. He was 90 years old.

“I first met J.J. in the 1970s,” Rudolph writes in Mystery Fanfare. “I was the young kid on the block, and he and [his wife] Bette were so welcoming at my first [Mystery Writers of America] meeting. Over the years we met at meetings, conventions, and literary salons. I hosted both Bette and J.J. at several salons here in Berkeley, and they also came to support other writer friends. I served with him on the MWA NorCal Board, where his infinite knowledge and creativity shone through. His warmth and genuine appreciation and support of other writers and friends was forthcoming.”

Among the books credited to Bette Golden Lamb and J.J. Lamb are Bone Dry (2010), introducing Gina Mazzio, a San Francisco nurse and their protagonist in nine medical thrillers, and the Shamus Award finalist No Pat Hands (2013), J.J. Lamb’s fourth and final novel about Las Vegas, Nevada, private investigator Zachariah Tobias Rolfe III.

No comments: