Pain Management: A Burke Novel

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9780375413223: Pain Management: A Burke Novel

Andrew Vachss’s previous novel, Dead and Gone, prompted the Rocky Mountain News to say, “Starting a Vachss novel is like putting a vial of nitroglycerine into your pocket and going for a jog.” With his latest thriller, Vachss turns the heat up a notch by dropping his career criminal and ultimate urban survivalist, Burke, in the middle of some of the most dangerously determined humans he has ever faced.

Burke has gone “missing-and-presumed” from his native New York City, following a failed assassination attempt. The shadowy man-for-hire is scratching out an existence in the Pacific Northwest, waiting to see if it is safe to return.

Without his underground network of contacts and connections, cut off from his own people, Burke is forced to abandon his trademark complex scams. Instead, he returns to what he refers to as “violence for money.” When Gem, the professional border-crosser who calls herself his wife, brings him a job tracking down a runaway teenager, Burke finds himself in a long, dark tunnel of lies—lined with more games than players.

Burke takes to the unfamiliar streets, quickly and brutally establishing a presence. The whisper-stream carries him to a fanatical group of criminal Samaritans dedicated to supplying adequate drugs for those suffering from chronic pain. Forced into a potentially deadly alliance, Burke walks the wire between betrayals, risking it all for a girl he has never met. Because the State-raised outlaw knows better than most that there are many kinds of pain. And many ways to “manage” it.

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Review:

When last encountered (2000's Dead and Gone), career criminal Burke was on the rebound from a nearly successful assassination attempt, lying low and licking his wounds in Portland, Oregon. Severed from his connections in NYC, Burke survives on jobs--"violence for money" mostly--brokered by his live-in lover, Gem, an Asian beauty with a painful, larcenous past and a present to match.

At hand is a task Burke has done before: the recovery of a runaway, a 16-year-old girl named Rosebud. But Burke, an assassin with scruples, knows when things aren't right. Rosebud's father, Kevin, has a '60s-era contempt of "The Man" that doesn't jibe with his obvious wealth. Mother Maureen limps through life on pharmaceutical crutches. Younger sister Daisy and best friend Jennifer know things but won't share. As his search spirals out from Portland's mean streets, Burke encounters a mysterious young woman, Ann O. Dyne, who offers to help for a price. Her raison d'être is pain management--securing and dispensing medications vital to the terminally ill but held beyond their reach by a largely uncaring cadre of doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Eventually, of course, this plot line connects with Rose's whereabouts.

Andrew Vachss's MO here, as usual, is a mystery (Rosebud's disappearance) plus an actual cause célèbre (humane pain management). It's a risky formula that aims both to entertain and to enlighten. With its believably unbelievable characters, Vachss's spare noir, and steely pacing that counterpoints a bolt-upright climax, Burke's 13th outing is every bit as satisfying as the dozen that came before. --Michael Hudson

From the Inside Flap:

Burke is back, but still lurking in the shadows, unable to return home. He is prowling the unfamiliar streets of Portland, Oregon, in search of a runaway teen. By all accounts, Rosebud Carlin is a happy, well-adjusted girl. She doesn't fit the profile of the runaway kids Burke knows so wellÉand once was. But there's something about her fatherÉ

Burke knows the street script, but the actors are all strangers. Cut off from his family and his network of criminal contacts, Burke is forced into a dangerous alliance with a renegade group dedicated to providing relief to those in intractable pain by any means necessary. A bargain is struck, and the fuse is lit. Heart-stopping and hard-hitting, Pain Management is the latest bout in Andrew Vachss's thrilling reign as undisputed champ of brass knuckles noir.

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