Lawyer Sees the Dark Side and Lives to Tell About It
By Craig Holyoak, Deseret News staff writer
"I am not a writer," he claims.
"I am a lawyer," he clarifies.
Andrew Vachss is actually a paladin; a paladin who goes after those who commit crimes against children. No other kind of law interests the relentless urban warrior.
But he most definitely (almost incidentally, he might say) writes books: crime mysteries filled with characters and circumstances straight out of the dark and sorrowful world where evil maims and destroys society's innocents. Vachss writes books that may seem threatening to minds pampered with the notion that ours is a world where all sleep peacefully—loved and protected. His prose is mink soft and Doberman violent.
For Andrew Vachss, writing is an opportunity to present his case to a larger courtroom, a worldwide jury who can hear the particular stories of child victims and decide against the exploiters and predators.
The worldwide courtroom fits Vachss. His is the driving force behind the DON'T! BUY! THAI! boycott aimed at Indonesia and its kiddie sex–tourism industry. The economic warfare has been so successful that Indonesian leaders personally call him and ask him to reconsider his protest. [Note: The boycott ended 12/20/00. For the complete story, click here.]
Vachss made a recent appearance in Salt Lake City. It was instantly apparent what was most vital about Vachss before he began to speak. When he enters a room, it becomes his. He is intensity in mortal form, liquid electricity, throwing off sun–hot sparks. It is a force field that drives him and prohibits anyone from wasting a second of his time.
Vachss does nothing in life—no writing, no court trial, no handshake—that is not connected to his goal of making life safer for young victims.
"I am not showing people the darkness of life," he says, "I am showing them the light."
The storylines of his books are exciting, twisting, complex and, above all, curiously satisfying to the soul. Through the entertainment of well–told mysteries, the reader is introduced to new kinds of characters while being educated by bullet–quick plots and finding brotherhood and safety in Vachss' not–so–white–knight protagonists.
The stories, as in his collection "Born Bad" (Vintage Books; 336 pages), are made even more compelling by Vachss' assurance that he writes fiction derived straight from fact. These people, settings and crimes are not from Vachss' imagination, but his memory.
In Vachss' latest novel, "False Allegations" (Alfred A Knopf; 225 pages), street–tough investigator Burke is hired by a successful attorney to debunk the allegations of abuse of a young woman by a religious leader. The case gets darker, the facts twist and turn. The reader learns of research suggesting young victims of crime are deeply, maybe even irreversibly, altered by their victimhood. Does that mean all child victims are time bombs waiting to explode in a criminal future—as repeat victims or savage criminals? Flip a coin.
A final note about Vachss' visit to Salt Lake City: As the store filled with autograph seekers, it was quickly obvious that the largely middle–age readers considered Vachss more than a special writer. He was an unmet friend, a soul mate and a fearless fighter on their side. One woman was in serious labor but insisted on meeting Vachss before going to the hospital. He paused briefly to consider the touching moment, then returned to the task of convincing his jury.
Urban warrior Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who goes after those who commit crimes against children, then writes stories based on facts.
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