And although I've found the series bracing, eye-opening and a great read, if Terminal represents what Vachss has left in the tank, then ending it's a good idea. Vachss has never shied away from the charge that his books have a message as well as a story. He's said in interviews that he orients most of his life towards one goal: The protection of children. Vachss is a lawyer, and has always claimed that his fiction writing is another way of doing what he does when he represents a child in the courtroom. He exposes the way kids are hurt and those who hurt them. Vachss was one of the first to detail the way child predators would use phone modems to share photos and stories of their crimes with one another, back in the late 1980s.
The Burke novels have always been deep noir, with their language and voice one step away from a parody of tough-guy crime fiction. It was a good fit with his main character, Burke, who was usually presenting a front to the world around him in service of a scam or self-protection. Terminal is soaked in the same stew, but where Vachss used to weave his sermon into his story, of late he's taken to lazily stopping the story for some character to rant the message he wants us to know.
He started being more overt with 2001's Pain Management and almost managed to sink 2006's Mask Market with a lecture that torpedoed the end game of the novel. Terminal, though, shows us about a third of the story we're used to, over-seasoned with lectures on the Iraq war, racial-oriented violence in prison and a half-dozen others that don't linger any longer than a flashbulb. In earlier Burke novels, Vachss' intent hit as hard as his story because he was able to weave them together. Now, though he seems as intense as ever if not more so, the message moments hold up a sign saying "Flip past me" or they dwindle out of memory before another five pages go by.
It's unfortunate, since Burke has been looking more closely at who he is, what he does and how some of his view of the world might stand some changing. Crime fiction as a genre doesn't include a lot of room for introspection and character growth, so Vachss might have felt he's done everything he could do with Burke within this genre. And maybe Another Life will be a way to wrap some of that up. If not, and if it keeps following the pattern that Vachss continues in Terminal, then that title will have been a lot more apt than he might have wanted.