Audiobook Review: A Bomb Built In Hell by Andrew Vachss

13 11 2012

A Bomb Built In Hell by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A Bomb Built in Hell isn’t an easy listen. Its brutal betrayal of a human monster blossoming from the cesspool of the cultural outcast is stark and disturbing. Vachss tells the story with an authentic flair and creates vivid images that will stick with you long after the final track. It may not be easy, but it’s a tale worth experiencing.

Grade: B

Every time I take on an Andrew Vachss novel I find myself thinking about the very nature of evil. As someone who enjoys speculative fiction of the darker variety, horror, dark fantasy, paranormal and apocalyptic fiction, it’s all too easy to put a monsters face onto evil, Throughout history humanity has often tried to put the blame for evil onto supernatural elements, demons, witches and angry gods are just a few examples. This is because most often evil wears a human face. Evil things are done by humanity every day, from the rich and powerful playing games with the lives of many, to adults preying on the innocent, these acts of evil can be brazen, or hidden, but they occur. Andrew Vachss characters are seldom evil people, yet they can do evil things. I have yet to experience the Vachss novel where the main character is truly a hero. Even calling them anti-heroes is stretching things because almost any heroic act is a byproduct of their self interest. Yet, many of them have redeeming qualities. They have their own moral code which they stick to more so than the most pious preacher. They are fiercely loyal to those who have earned their loyalty. In the Burke series, often times Burke and his family of choice will take down the lowest of lows, the predators that prey on those weaker than them, as long as there is a payday in it for them. You may not like what these characters do, or the way the make their ends justify their means, but there is on some level a twisted nobility to their actions. They are not good guys by any definition, but like most of Vachss’ characters they are not evil. Then I listened to A Bomb Built In Hell.

A Bomb Built in Hell starts off with an author’s note talking a bit about Vachss history as a writer, and how this, his first full novel, received almost unanimous rejections from those he submitted to. I can totally understand why this happened. A Bomb Built in Hell is a brutal listen. I have always been fascinated by the Wesley character. I haven’t yet completed the entire Burk series, but Wesley is a sort of ghostly presents that haunts much of the series. He is part mentor, part cautionary tale, and part boogeyman that influences much of Burke’s philosophy. A Bomb Built from Hell is Wesley’s story. It isn’t a Robin Hood tale, of a crook who battles the powerful in the name of the poor, and Wesley is no anti-hero. He’s not even a proper villain. Wesley is a monster in human skin, warped by the system. It’s hard to find a single redeeming quality to Wesley. He kills indiscriminately, and places no value on life. Reading about Wesley is like witnessing a horrific act, brutal, stomach turning but mesmerizing. Vachss details his life in vivid, sickening detail. He tempts you along the way, making you want to feel sympathy for this man, and then smacks you in the face with the essence of the character. Much of Vachss characterizations in other novels creates a character you can cheer for, because despite being villains, they are taking on worse scum then they are. They are the hero by comparison. Wesley is nobody’s hero. He kills the innocent just as quickly as the evil. Even his attempts to do something good are so warped by his mindset that it suffers its own futility. I can’t really say I liked A Bomb Built in Hell because it was an emotionally draining experience. Vachss is a brilliant writer and each step in this novel is executed to perfection. I totally appreciate what he does here, and the time I spent listening was time well spent. I think the most fascinating thing about A Bomb Built in Hell was that it was written back in the 70’s, and while some historic and cultural elements are definitely from that time, Wesley has the feel of the modern day monster.  Vachss details actions by this man that would seem almost ridiculous 20 years ago, but modern day readers will see recognizable qualities in Wesley to that applies to some of our more modern atrocities. A Bomb Built in Hell isn’t an easy listen. Its brutal betrayal of a human monster blossoming from the cesspool of the cultural outcast is stark and disturbing. Vachss tells the story with an authentic flair and creates vivid images that will stick with you long after the final track. It may not be easy, but it’s a tale worth experiencing.

Phil Gigante has become the go to narrator for Vachss work, and that’s a valuable asset for any author. Gigante reads A Bomb Built in Hell with an appropriate low key style that fits this dark tale. There are a lot of colorful characters along the way, and Gigante is one of the best at voicing the various lowlifes, scum bags and human detritus that can populate the dark criminal worlds that Vachss creates. Yet, what Gigante does so well here is the transformational journey that he takes Wesley’s character on. Wesley’s journeys from his days s a young hood, to his time as a soldier, through his prison years being mentored by an aging criminal, to his days as hitman and assassin, and as he moves through his life, Gigante’s portrayal of him morphs. From the eagerness in his voices as he learns the tools of his trade, to the cold deadness of his tone as he moves closer to his fate, Gigante captures each stage in his life perfectly. Gigante uses his voice to paint Vachss dark portrait with such vivid detail that it makes the novel even that much more shocking. Like a musician finally finding just the right song, Vachss world is the perfect fit for Gigante, and together they create something special.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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