Audiobook Review: Down in the Zero by Andrew Vachss

6 07 2011

Down in the Zero by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Quick Thoughts: While Down in the Zero is not my favorite in the Burke series, the symbiosis of author and narrator is a pleasure to listen to.

Grade: B

What I like most about reading mystery/thriller series focused around one character is to see the progression of the character’s life. A good series character should never live in a bubble. It’s important that the character lives in the world of his books, allowing each adventure, each tragedy to affect who they are and how they handle the next situation. We don’t follow these characters because they live an unchanging, vanilla life, where at the start of each book they are back at square one, we want to see them grow and change. This is one of the reasons, despite many authors insistence that this isn’t necessary, I try my best to read novels in order of publication. I like seeing the changes, even though they are often frustrating. One of the reasons I love the Burke series so much is that despite the stoic as concrete nature of the main character, a careful reading will show you the cracks that each subsequent action in the series takes. Burke isn’t your typical good guy hero type and with that his story goes to very dark places. Down in the Zero is the seventh Burke novel and the consequences of his decisions in Sacrifice has Burke at the lowest we have seen him. This emotional setting is quite important for the events of this novel and, if not his path back to redemption, at the least his escape from the nothingness of the Zero.

Down in the Zero was one of the tougher listens for me in this series. Burke is called upon by a young man, Randy, to look into the suicides of affluent college age kids in the Connecticut suburbs. Burke is a reluctant force in this tale, only taking on the case because of a perceived debt to the kid’s mother. While the investigation is interesting, it never really gets into full gear. Down in the Zero’s true case is that of Burke, and whether he can pull himself out of his funk. For me, this worked and it didn’t. I found that his relationship with Randy was brilliantly plotted and truly showed a side of Burke that we long to see. Burke is at his best when dealing with the broken, and seeing the almost father/son relationship develop between two broken men was fascinating. Yet, the “love” interest in this book, Fancy, left me shaking my head. Not that is wasn’t well developed, but it seemed to be a true regression for Burke. Fancy had all the annoying aspects of Belle, Burke’s love interest in Blue Belle, without any of her redeeming qualities. While I believe this was a conscious decision by Vachss, for me it was hard to totally grasp, and hence, I could never truly engage with the character. While aspects of the Burke/Fancy story was key to solving the mysteries of the teenage suicides, I found myself truly wanting to get past those scenes and back to those involving Burke and Randy. While I feel this was an important stage in Burke’s life, and a story that needed to be told in the overall arc, I didn’t connect with Down in the Zero the way I did with the earlier books in the series.

What I did love about this audio version was Phil Gigante’s performance. You can always tell when a narrator “gets” the book he is narrating. Gigante’s Burke starts off more gruff and lifeless then in previous editions of the series, which totally fit the story. As the story progresses, Burke’s voice slowly begins to smooth out, filling again with life, and bringing us back to the Burke we remember. This allows us as listeners to feel Burke returning to life, escaping from the Zero. Gigante does this as well with the Randy character, allowing us to live his progression from petulant man-child, to the greater maturity he reaches by books end. Vachss and Gigante are a great team because they both know how to tell a tale and the narrator definitely embraces what the author is doing. While not my favorite in the Burke series, the symbiosis of author and narrator is a pleasure to listen to.


Note: Thanks to the good people of Brilliance Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.



One response

7 07 2011
Colleen Rose

I have listened to all of the Burke series and several more of Vachss books. I have also heard about 100 of Phil’s performances (in all of their different genre and tone) and could not agree with you more. In my opinion, Phil enhances any author, he really gets the author’s intent and performs with passion and skill. There were a couple of Burke’s books that were not easy to get through (this being one), but I continued to follow Burke in the hope that he would take control of his life. With the reading of just one Burke book, you know his background, family and current circumstance, but he just seems to allow his life to flow around him, rather than take hold, make a plan (beyond the next con) and continue to grow as the other characters in his life do. When Vachss said Burke was done, I had to agree that if he could not take a different direction, it would be best to leave him behind. Thanks for the great review. Your insights always are of interest!

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