Re: RARA-AVIS: Bleedin' Heart Burke?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 28 Apr 2001

Kevin asked:

"Burke is major politically correct? You've just got to explain that one."

Although the question was addressed to Miker, I thought I'd jump in. I can't read the Burke novels. I read the first and it was more than enough for me; I tried to begin the second, but had to put it down. And this was one of the reasons. As admirable as Vachss's work against the exploitation of children is in real life, and as much as I mostly applaud his politics, the Burke books become agit-prop -- all about the empowerment of abused children and revenge fantasies against evil abusers. He makes Spillane look subtle in his political agenda, although Vachss is mostly on the left, even with his biblical retribution. I guess self-righteous violence is not limited to any one political position.

However, the real reason I don't read the Burke books is because I can't take the writing -- it is so overblown. First of all, Burke's "I'm a loner bad guy in the revenge ode of Mike Hammer" stance is so hypocritical. Every three pages he moans/brags about being a loner with no ties to drag him down, but he has a surrogate family as tight as any in PI fiction, including the women PIs. And that family is so carefully liberally composed to represent the oppressed. On top of that, if I had had to hear about how he trained his dog one more time I was going to scream. An editor needs to trim the redundancies.

That said, I think his non-Burke work is great. Shella is a classic novel which addresses all of his concerns, but makes its point through getting you to almost empathize with a pretty scary character, not through hitting you over the head, but through getting you inside him, getting you to understand his warped motivations. Even as you deplore the character, you wish the situations that helped mold him could be eradicated. And his short work in Bad Blood is terrific.

Still haven't figured out how he could dedicate a book to Iceberg Slim, though. With his strict anti-exploitation stance, how could he endorse Slim's glorification of predatory pimps?


# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 28 Apr 2001 EDT