The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Books, 2003)

Not a “vintage” sleaze/crime/sex book, but written in the vintage mode, with a retro type cover, by noir-man Andrew Vahcss (“Vax”).

A few years ago, seemed Vintage/Black Lizard was going to issue some 50K-word trade paper originals, with that old time pulp feel, with covers to match — The Getaway Man was one of them, but seems that idea feel to the side. Too bad.  Then came Hard Case Crime, picking up on the notion…

This is Vachss’ Gold Medal book — has that Gold Medal sensibility and could have been one.  The first-person narrator is recruited to be a getaway driver in a heist; he’s a nowheere guy with a rap sheet from his juvenile days, but he can drive. And find trouble.

He doesn’t “sound” any different than many of Vachss nameless narrators in his short stories, or his characters Ghost and Cross; as for Burke, Burke is more distinct.  Vachss tosses in his trademark sexually abused children sub-plot, which is almost disappointing, that he goes back to an element that, while powerful, has become repetitive in his work.

I first discovered Vachss the summer of 1990; I stumbled on a used mass market reprint of Blue Belle (the third Burke novel), opened it, and was blown away by what I read.  I couldn’t put it down. I had never read crime fiction like this, and it was exciting — the very short chapters, the terse writing, the explicit sex and wild violence, along with dark taboo subjects like incest and child prostitution/porn. The novel was filled with an assortment of colorful characters who helped Burke out, from a transvestite hooker to a homeless rhyming philosopher and a Chinese dragon lady who acted as banker and momma.  Burke himself was a criminal private eye, sorta, a mixed character who was both a crook and avenger of the helpless, who toted a giant mastiff around in a souped up old car. Who the hell was this guy and why had I not found Vachss and Burke before?

I quickly picked up Vachss’ others, such as Hard Candy (the fourth, connected to Blue Belle), Strega, and others.  His first, Flood, was not as good — dense, too private-eye-esque; I later heard rumors that he was unable to sell it and “created” a fake literary agent to get editors to read, selling it finally to Donald I. Fine, not the best of the hardcover publishers at the time.

I have since heard many rumors that Vachss is a con guy and created that image of himself as the one-eyed tough guy lawyer as a marketing ploy (did he really lose his eye in a street fight from a thug with a bike chain?).  Who knows if this is true or made up by jealous competitors?  Does it matter?  Not really.  All promotional images are cons of hype one way or another.

I was a fan throughout most of the 90s, eager for every new Burke book; around the late 90s, the books started to become repetitive and dull, and disappointing.  He came back for me with Shella, and with The Getaway Man.

A recommended read.

2 Responses to “The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Books, 2003)”

  1. Lilly Harris Says:

    An interesting description of Getaway Man, but your addition of goofy “rumors” detracts from the whole. The agent for Flood was Victor Chapin, who was vice president of the John Schaffner Agency and very well known in literary circles; his obituary was in the New York Times. Vachss not only dedicated Flood (1985) to his memory, but praises his work in the foreword to the Vintage reissue (1997).
    Vachss’s eye was injured when he was attacked as a small child by a person with a bike chain, not unlike what happened to Tina Fey as a child. This info is in endless articles, both by journalists and by Vachss himself in his autobiographical profile for Contemporary Authors. There wasn’t a “street fight”, and as many pictures show, he didn’t “lose an eye”.
    Why repeat “rumors” that anyone can so easily debunked?

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      Rumors are that, rumors, and we here merely repeated what has been spread but did not say they were true or believe them,

      We contend that as great a writer Vachss is, he has now become a parody of himself, and his work is no longer new but quite repetitive. It happens to the best.

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