Picks and Pans Review: Sacrifice

updated 07/01/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1991 01:00AM

by Andrew Vachss

Vachss continues his fictional slow train through the hell of child abuse in this sixth novel featuring Burke, the ex-con hijacker and occasional private investigator.

Burke, who has a soft spot for kids and a hard glance for everything else life offers, never hunts child molesters. Instead, they make their way to him, in cases that end up in his hands willy-nilly. Then he emerges as a pedophile's darkest nightmare, working beyond the law, in the safe confines of his own sinister society.

In Sacrifice, Burke needs to find a 3-year-old named Derrick, hoping he hasn't sunk into a world of voodoo and voyeurism. He thinks a man named Emerson took him. Here, Burke and his sidekick Clarence seek information from Emerson's woman:

"She wasn't going to tell us anything. Years of dealing with Welfare and Child Protective Services had perfected the sullen-hostile-stupid routine. The cops had already threatened her with a murder rap if she was shielding Emerson. She didn't look afraid of anything society had to offer.

" 'You got a silencer for that pistol?' I asked Clarence.

" 'I got this, mahn,' he ice-whispered, taking a straight razor from his pocket.

" 'That'll do. Start on her arms—it'll just look like more tracks when they find the body.'

"She was off the bed, opening her mouth to scream as Clarence slammed her back down, driving his shoulder into her chest, stuffing a handful of the ratty bedspread into her mouth. He pinned her flat with one knee. The razor gathered light as if it were a crystallized gem, waving hypnotically before her eyes. Snot bubbled in her nose as she fought for breath.

"I leaned over her. 'You want to tell us, now? Before we start cutting?' "

None of Vachss's books (Blue Belle, Blossom, Strega) is for the squeamish, this one included. He writes about child abuse and. through each novel, has drawn indelible portraits of the players in that tragedy—from sweet-faced victims to the faceless molesters among us. No one writes the type of books Andrew Vachss does. No one can.

As a New York City attorney specializing since 1979 in juvenile justice and child abuse cases, Vachss has met with frustration as often as success in trying to bring molesters to trial. That he has been driven to seek vicarious justice in his writing is a sad and painful lesson. (Knopf, $20)

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