Cover image for Choice of evil
Choice of evil
Vachss, Andrew H.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
305 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
A Burke novel.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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A rally in Central Park, a protest against gaybashing. A murderous drive-by. Five people down, two dead. One of them Crystal Beth, girlfriend of Burke, the most haunted and darkly talented man-for-hire in the city. First the gay-bashers celebrate . . . then they start dropping. Claiming responsibility is the mysterious "Homo Erectus," whose identity is as unknown as his mission is clear. Burke is unsurprised when the cops pull him in for questioning--"I was born a suspect." But he is now also homeless and homicidal, a gun without a target, unable to find the shooters who killed his last chance at love, and drifting near the brink of the ultimate despair he calls the Zero. Most citizens see Homo Erectus as a serial killer with a political agenda. But to some, he's become a hero. Like the police, they desperately want to find him. But unlike the police, they want to help him disappear before the dragnet tightens. They hire Burke for the job. Which is when things really get ugly. For as Burke tracks the killer, he stumbles across the unmistakable footprints of the man who was the city's most feared assassin before his own death--an ice-cold murder machine whose very name still inspires terror in the city's underground. The whisper-stream is divided in its verdict: either Wesley never really died . . . or he's found a way to come back. In Choice of Evil, Burke strays closer to the edge than he ever has before, and closer to the most twisted workings of the human heart and mind. It is also Andrew Vachss's most haunting and frightening novel to date.

Author Notes

Hardboiled writer Andrew Henry Vachss was born on October 19, 1942 in New York City. He attended Case Western Reserve University and the New England School of Law.

Vachss has worked in many government and law enforcement organizations, ranging from the U. S. Public Health Service to the New York City Juvenile Justice Planning Project.

Vachss' work as a writer includes a series of books featuring an unlicensed private detective named Burke. Burke's appearances include Flood, Strega, Blue Belle, Hard Candy, Blossom and Sacrifice. Vachss has also written comic books and graphic novels.

(Bowker Author Biography) Andrew Vachss was born on October 19, 1942 in New York, New York. He graduated magna cum laude from the New England School of Law in 1975 and received a B.A. from Case Western Reserve University in 1965.

Some of Vachss' extensive experience include positions as an Attorney and Consultant, Adjunct Professor at the College of New Resources, New York, NY, Director of the Juvenile Justice Planning Project, New York, NY, Project Director of the Dept. of Youth Services, Boston, MA, and Unit Supervisor for the Dept. of Social Services, New York, NY. He is a member of the American Society of Criminology, National Association of Counsel for Children, American Professional Society of the Abuse of Children, and PEN American Center.

Vachss' first novel, "Flood" (1985), began his series of detective stories that feature the unlicensed private detective known as Burke. Burke narrates the novels "Flood," "Strega," "Blue Belle," "Hard Candy," "Blossom," and "Sacrifice." His subject matter uses child-related sex crimes, which is something Vachss spent his entire career observing. His literary awards include the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere for "Strega" in 1988, The Falcon Award for "Strega" in 1988, and Deutschen Krimi Preis, Die Jury des Bochumer Krimi Archivs for "Flood" in 1989.

Vachss has also written collected short stories: "Born Bad" (1994), and "Everybody Pays" (1999). He is also a contributing editor for Parade Magazine.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

At a gay rally in New York City, Burke's friend Crystal Beth is killed in a drive-by shooting. Burke and his tribe of shadowy, semicriminal associates set out to track down the killer, but their investigation is soon impeded by a retaliatory series of murders perpetrated against known gay bashers. As Burke slithers through his world of warehouses, abandoned buildings, false IDs, stolen cell phones, police informants, and damaged souls, he learns that the source of all the killing may have a more complicated motive than hate or even revenge. Burke novels are an acquired taste but apparently one acquired by enough readers to support a series that has survived for a decade. Vachss creates a gun-metal gray, paranoid milieu where few can be trusted, where to be mainstream is to be compromised, and where children and women are always--yes, always--at risk. It's a harrowing world, but one with magnetic appeal for readers with a dark side. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

Urban nightmares have been Vachss's stock-in-writing-trade since his debut 14 years ago with the extraordinary Flood. His 11th Burke novel is more nightmare than most, a dizzying shapeshifter of a tale that speeds suspense, vengeance, retribution, magic, bizarre sex play, characters old and new and icicle-pointed prose past the reader in a near blur. After the customary preludeÄBurke loses his apartment and must move with his dog to BrooklynÄthe action proper begins. The outlaw PI is hired by a group of gay activists to find a vigilante, the self-proclaimed Homo Erectus (HE), who is wiping out gay-bashers around the city; the activists plan to spirit him to safety. Too soon, the case complicates immenselyÄfor Burke but also for readers. Burke's lover was killed a while back in a drive-by shooting of gay protesters. Was HE involved? Why is HE, whom Burke contacts through the Net, so obsessed with Wesley, the stone killer apparently blown up some time ago? Has Wesley returned from the dead? What does the lesbian dominatrix aiding Burke in his search for HE really want? Into this plot mesh, Vachss weaves cameos by nearly all the series regularsÄMax the Silent, Mole the technogeek, Strega the witch, etc.Äbut anyone new to the books will weep at trying to make sense of the relations between them. Vachss's excesses strut through the storyÄthe elliptical narration, the ranting against pederasts, the psychosexual melodrama ("She licked the blood off... sucked until she came, spasming... "). The plot whips here, there and everywhere, including into extensive but only tangentially relevant flashbacks, via computer messages from HE, of the killer's kidnapping of a girl. Like a furiously spun hand-cranked generator, this angry novel spits out a few sparks, but not enough to distract readers from the real show: that of a talented writer sliding toward self-parody. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Vachss's (Safe House, LJ 2/1/98) 11th "Burke" novel, Burke's girlfriend is killed and others are injured in a drive-by shooting at a gay rights rally. Soon known gay-bashers begin turning up dead, and a mysterious stranger calling himself "Homo Erectus" claims responsibility. Burke is hired to find the elusive avenger by a group who wants to help HE (as he comes to be known) disappear before the police get to him. Burke's world is a perpetually dark place where being on the wrong side of the law isn't necessarily a bad thing, where "family" is more about who you trust than who you're related to, and where danger is always just around the corner. This series isn't for everyone. Some readers may find it too dark or too hard, but those who like Vachss's other works should enjoy this one. Recommended for large mystery/thriller collections.ÄLeslie Madden, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter One It was almost three in the morning when she'd called, so I was outside her apartment house in fifteen minutes. I didn't like the doorman eyeballing me more than once, but I didn't see a way around it either. If he thought it was unusual for someone to be calling at that hour, he didn't show it . . . just rang up and got the okay for me to enter the elevator.         She must have been right at the peephole--the door opened even as I raised my knuckles to rap. The rose lighting was back on. Otherwise, the place was shrouded. "Go sit down," she told me, standing aside.         I gave up trying to solve the mystery of her three chairs and just took the middle one, letting her play any way she wanted.         She looked ghostly, floating across the room toward me. Barefoot, in a gauzy white robe that wrapped her body--a frame, not a cover. She took the nearest open chair, reached over, and pulled mine around so we were facing each other.         "I believe you," she said.         "Which means . . . ?"         "I believe you wouldn't . . . do what you said. I believe you . . . Oh, never mind. Look, here it is, okay? She . . . asked around. Like you said. I don't know about this 'theory' of yours, but you're right about one thing--they have the men who did that drive-by."         "Have them?"         "Found them, I should have said. They're dead. And one of the people killed in the crowd--you were right about that too. The police think it was murder. I mean, deliberate murder. The rest was only for . . . what do you call it? Camouflage? I don't know. But the cops say it was business. Professional business. They think they know who gave the order. That's what you want, right?"         "That's what I want."         "Well, I have it," she said.         "But you want to play with it first? Or you want me to place a fucking bid? What?"         "Why are you so . . . hostile?" she asked softly. "I've been nice to you. It was fun . . . flirting, right? I know you liked it."         "We've already been there," I told her.         "You really hate them, don't you?" she said, leaning so close I could feel her breath.         "Who?"         "Child molesters."         "Who doesn't?" I said, sloughing it off, staying clear of whatever was lightning-bolting around the rose-lit room.         "You should spend more time where I do," she said, an ugly undertone to her soft voice. "And you said to ask. You said it was okay. You told me to do it."         "What are you talking about?"         "My . . . friend. The cops. All that. It was easy, she said. They all . . . a lot of them anyway . . . they know you. Or about you, at least. I even know about those murders--the ones in the South Bronx."         "Jesus Christ, that's the kind of sorry two-bit rumor your pal came up with? That story's a fucking fossil."         "I know what you think," she said, sliding the gauzy robe off her shoulders. "You think I'm trying to get you to . . . admit something, right?"         "That's why you keep taking your clothes off? So I'll see you're not wearing a wire?" I laughed at her.         I could see her face flush. Or maybe it was just the reflected light.         "I'm just more . . . comfortable this way," she told me. "I don't like clothes. I don't like people to wear clothes. It's another thing to hide behind."         "Yeah, sure. You spend half your life in a gym, you've got a beef with clothes? You're more confident without your clothes, that's all. Because you're an overmatch against most everyone else that way."         "I'll bet I'd be with you."         "No contest," I acknowledged.         "You don't want to play at all, do you?"         "No."         "Why not?"         "I'm not a player."         "What does that mean? You don't have sex unless you're in love?"         "No. It means I smoke cigarettes but I don't light them with sticks of dynamite."         "You don't trust me?"         "I'd have to upgrade a cubic ton to distrust you," I told her, keeping my voice level. "You got me over here because you said you had what I wanted. Instead of giving it to me, you start asking me about some murders I'm supposed to have committed. I tell you I don't want to fuck you," I said, dropping my voice, letting a harder tone bleed through, "you tell me I'm a liar. I told you before: Behavior is the truth. What's the game? I say: 'Sure, you've got a body that would get a rise in a morgue,' and you say, 'Well, you're not getting any of it'? Would that make you happy? Is that your game? Okay, I'll pay that much, if that's what it takes. You're a gorgeous woman."         "But . . . ?"         "But you can't get juice from marble," I told her.         "What does that mean?"         "How many different ways you want me to say it? You've got a stake in this. Not the same one Lincoln and those other guys have. Yeah, I know, you told me: You 'love' this guy. And you just want to protect him, right? Sure, fine. I'll buy it, that's what you want. And I played right along, didn't I? You think I'd turn him over to the cops for a pass on one of my own cases, then don't help. But you already did that, right? Checked me out. Found out some stuff. Enough to convince you that, whatever else I am, I'm not a rat. So here I am. And what do I get? Another strip show. More of your stupid teasing. And some questions about . . . bullshit crap that couldn't be your business." Excerpted from Choice of Evil by Andrew Vachss All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.