Audiobook Review: Footsteps of the Hawk by Andrew Vachss

28 12 2011

Footsteps of the Hawk by Andrew Vachss (Burke Series, Book 8)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Fans of the series, who have read the novel in publication order, will find Footsteps of the Hawk paying off some of their diligence. Vachss pulls together small subplots and the emotional turmoil of the main character to cultivate this novel into a pivotal moment in the series that fans will enjoy.

Grade: B+

As I have mentioned before, I am a huge proponent of reading a book series, if at all possible, in order. Many authors will tell you that each of their novels will work just as well as stand alones, yet the best series writers always reward the reader who takes on the series in the published order with more in depth understanding of the overall tale. You can see the development of the characters, understand their motivations better when you start with the first of a series and work your way through. God authors will often foreshadow moments to come, putting pieces in place in subtle ways that you don‘t even realize until the events come to fruition in a future novel. . Plus, you get to watch characters as the develop relationships and watch the normal progression of it. There is one series, which despite the fact I was losing interest in it, I kept on reading because I hated his romantic entanglement so much, I was hoping the main character would separate from her (he did, only to get back together a few books later.) Over the past year, I have been working my way through the audiobook editions of Andrew Vachss’ long running Burke series. This series has a total of 18 books, and I have just competed book 8 Footsteps of the Hawk. Of the many things that Footsteps of the Hawk is, it is definitely a payoff book, where several storylines come to a head. As a reader who has, so far, read the series in order, I was quite happy with the payoff.

Footsteps of the Hawk finds our anti-hero Burke back in the city, among his chosen family, yet, not safe at all. Burke is pushed into the center of a dangerous cat and mouse game between two cops, with little idea of what is going on. While Burke usually likes to play it safe, he finds circumstances guiding him towards what very possible could be his final altercation. Vachss uses the lingering self doubts and guilt Burke feels from event earlier in the series to cause Burke to lose some of that edge he had while battling the ebbs and flows of the urban jungle of New York. I found Footsteps of the Hawk to be a more intimate tale than previous editions. Burke is definitely reflexive in this tale, giving us a more solid glimpse of Burkes shady past, if not in actual descriptions, but the emotions Burke is feeling. Despite the darkness that has surrounded Burke since the events of Sacrifice, I think we can see a bit of an end to his time wallowing in the guilt of the repercussions of his actions. I felt that the story was well plotted, and interesting, but for me it was Burke’s allowing him to get stuck in such a situation to be the truly interesting part of the tale. Burke is a character that is so fascinating, the he can survive more mundane plots, and still deliver, yet here the plot was strong, and only enhanced by Vachss character development. With ten more novels left in the series, I am quite excited to learn what paths Burke has yet to travel,

There is a moment in this novel where Burke, and his mentor/surrogate father Prof are discussing who is a better actor, Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci, and listening to it made me think to myself, “Self, this is why I like Phil Gigante so much as a narrator.” These moments of dialogue, between two utterly different characters in both sound and rhythm, come off sounding so authentic in the hands of Gigante.  Gigante just seems to have this natural talent for making characters come alive, and performs the interplay between these characters better than anyone else. This is one reason that I love when there is narrator consistency in a series, narrators are learning these characters as well, along with the listener and good narrators know how to develop the characters with their voices, in a parallel way with the author’s developing these characters with their prose. Footsteps of the Hawk is a transitional book in the series, bringing the end to some subplot while setting the plate for futures events, yet, more importantly, it’s a good solid thriller.

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.

Audiobook Review: Blossom by Andrew Vachss

8 01 2011

Blossom by Andre Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Burke isn’t your typical thriller hero. First off, he’s a criminal. A thief and hijacker, Burke lives on the edge of society, looking down on the rest of society, the citizens that inhabit day to day life. Although skewed, Burke lives by a strict moral code. Having no biological family, he embraces his real family, others who live on the edge of society. Yet, Burke has a “weakness.” An extreme distaste for sexual freaks who prey on innocent children. Using that as a basis, Andrew Vachss takes us into an often times unpleasant, yet fascinating world, the urban jungle of New York, where children are exploited everyday. Here Burke lives as an anti-hero, taking down rapists and pedophiles. Working with cops and people in the “system: yet, according to his own rules, often bringing heat on himself.

Yet, in Blossom, the fifth novel in this series, Burke is a fish out of water. Drawn to a small town in Indiana, summoned by his “brother” former cell mate Virgil, Burke is hunting a sexual sniper, who is targeting kids at lover’s lane. While the setting is different, Burke is the same, and not only finds himself embroiled in the hunt, but in the arms of the sister of one of the victims of the sniper.

Blossom is another fascinating edition to the Burke series. While missing the grit and grotesqueness of Burke’s New York, there is a bit of freshness to this tale. Burke may be a gruff and sometimes unlikable character, but his stories, and his assorted family makes the tales he is telling enthralling. Vachss knows about the world he writes, and this authentic take on it adds to the story.

To make things even better, Phil Gigante is the narrator on Blossom, again bringing his bluesy cool voice to Burke’s world. One of the better narrators working today, Gigante handles everyone from the monosyllabic Mole to the poetic preacher man Prof, as if they are all instruments in this literary version of a blues number.

Grade B+