Shella by Andrew Vachss
Read by Phil Gigante
Length: 6 Hrs 17 Min
Quick Thoughts: Shella works well on many levels, as a fascinating character study of a truly unique protagonist, a love story that is in no way classic, and a tight, cerebral thriller with plenty of bad guys for the listener to rejoice in seeing brought down.
First off, I must say that with the news full of incredibly disheartening stories of people of power using their positions to abuse children, as well as people allowing the evil to stay hidden in the dark where they can only fester, I am truly glad for people like Andrew Vachss who shines a light on these issues. I found that listening to Shella as these stories began to fully surface, really disheartened me. While Vachss on his Website showed me that some things may be getting better, I still find it hard to believe that seemingly good people can stay quiet in the face of evil. While Shella does not have the emphasis that many of Vachss novels had on the topic of sexual abuse, the lingering results of such evil peppers the tale. There are also some disturbing scenes early in the novel, that I found hard to take, but while they may have been graphic, even in the off camera way Vachss handled them, I could not help but feel for the even more tragic reality that these children suffer through. I bring this up, not to make a political statement, but to underscore the mindset I was in while listening to this audiobook. We don’t live in a bubble, and events influence the way we perceive art. While I don’t think I was in the right mindset to handle one of the Burke novels, or even a book like Cemetery Girl by David Bell, Vachss novel Shella, after the early scenes that disturbed me, also introduced me to a character that will stick with me a long time.
In Shella, we meet Ghost, an unimposing, quiet man who has a special skill, killing people. Ghost works with Shella, a hard stripper who he may just be in love with. After a botched job, Ghost is caught red handed with the dead body of a serial rapist, and eventually pleads to manslaughter. After being released, he attempts to locate Shella, with bad results. Finally, he meets someone who may be able to help, but first he must again use his skills at murder to complete a job for him. Ghost is a character that just totally fascinated me, a hitman unlike any hitman I have read about before. It is really hard to put a typical label on this character, some may call him an anti-hero, but there really isn’t anything heroic about him. Yet, he also doesn’t come off an evil person, he kills because that is what he is good at, and morality never is even considered in his equation. Murder is just a means of achieving a goal, he doesn’t find any personal pleasure in it. Ghost, externally, is quiet, and comes off to many as possibly a bit slow. In many ways, he exhibits classic aspects of an autistic personality, he doesn’t know how to relate to people, he doesn’t understand typical motivations, he lacks any true empathy, he is fascinated by things most would consider mundane, and he seems to have an exceptional natural ability, his ability to utilize the weapons of murder. To make matters even better, Vachss has plotted a perfect scenario to highlight the unique aspects of his character. While Shella was written in 1993, it has a timeless quality, and never really feels dated. Shella works well on many levels, as a fascinating character study of a truly unique protagonist, a love story that is in no way classic, and a tight, cerebral thriller with plenty of bad guys for the listener to rejoice in seeing brought down.
After the number of audiobooks I have listened to narrated by Phil Gigante you would think I would know his entire playbook. While Gigante captures many of the peripheral characters with some of his recognizable voices, be does a wonderful job bringing Ghost to life, in unexpected ways. I simply loved how he captured Ghost just right, giving his a deliberate almost stoic vocal style, only truly allowing emotion to color his voice when Ghost was dwelling on Shella. Being a first person tale, Gigante definitely delivers one of his more memorable readings. While Shella is equal parts wonderful and terrible, disheartening and uplifting, there is no question that the audiobook has quality written all over it and is a wonderful way for the fans of this novel to re-experience it.
Note: A special thanks to the people of Brilliance Audio for providing e with a review copy of this title.