Re: RARA-AVIS: Sensitive detectives

Doug Bassett (
Sat, 27 Nov 1999 09:17:27 -0800 (PST)

--- James Rogers <> wrote:
> It's funny, but I can't really
> consider Vachss hardboiled for
> the same reasons some folks just applied against Ian
> Fleming. The Vachss
> thingies seem like Doc Savage stuff to me....not
> that there's anything
> wrong with that, but Hammett or Chandler it ain't.
Before I joined the list I used to read the rara-avis archives a lot, and I remember that Vachss's name sparked a lot of vociferous discussions.

Vachss is certainly something of an acquired taste, and I understand why some people don't care for the Burke novels. At their worst they can be tiresomely didatic. I think, though, that at his best Vachss is a master of grim, unrelenting atmosphere (in some ways, perhaps, the heir to Spillane). Also, I, at least, get the uncomfortable feeling when I read Vachss that the hells he portrays are the Absolute Unvarnished Truth. I think this notion of a sick, sordid society lurking just underneath surface normality is intrinsic to the hardboiled ethos.

I urge people who haven't read Vachss, or have just read the Burke novels and didn't like them, to try to find Shella. It's by far his best book (it's not a Burke novel) and I'd argue it's one of the best books ever published in the hardboiled genre. The prose is so spare and unaccommodating that it verges on the preconcious.

Just my two cents, Doug

===== Doug Bassett
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