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Andrew Vachss (1942-2021)

January 11, 2022

I was saddened to learn Andrew Vachss died on December 27th. An attorney, author and activist, Vachss’s series of hardboiled novels featuring Burke (ex-con private investigator, survivalist and vigilante) became classics of the crime genre.

I interviewed Vachss in May of last year. It was for a book which I am currently writing on James Ellroy. Vachss and Ellroy were friends from the mid-80s to the early 90s. Setting up the interview was like a scenario out of one Vachss’s novels: I had to mail a letter to a PO Box address in Chicago to contact him, once I passed that hurdle, Vachss wouldn’t agree to the interview until Ellroy had given his permission. Ellroy kindly wrote to Vachss, initiating their first contact in thirty years, giving his blessing for the interview.

I finally spoke to Vachss by phone on a Sunday. He was in his law office in New York and explained to me that he could be called away at any moment if a legal issue arose that required his attention. I was floored by his hectic schedule considering this was a man in his late seventies. It’s hard to believe, only seven months later, he is not with us anymore.

Vachss died two days before Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on five counts of sex offences. It was a shame Vachss didn’t live to see it. The more powerful the abuser, the more he seemed to relish in their downfall. Take for example, his analysis of the Roman Polanski/Samantha Gailey case, which is completely unencumbered by Polanski’s exalted reputation in the Arts. It was Vachss’s hard work and dedication that led to President Clinton signing the National Child Protection Act into law, otherwise known as the ‘Oprah Bill’. Photo below is courtesy of Mike Ripley.

Andrew Vachss (back row with an eye patch), Oprah Winfrey and President Clinton

Thank you Andrew Vachss for everything you did. It was an honour to talk to you.

Postscript: I’ve dug up a blurb Vachss wrote for the first edition of The Black Dahlia. It’s quintessential Vachss:

THE BLACK DAHLIA hits you like Chinatown directed by Caryl Chessman. With it, James Ellroy surges to the forefront of contemporary American mystery fiction—Krafft-Ebing in one hand, a chainsaw in the other.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan permalink
    January 12, 2022 1:01 am

    Two Trains Running is the only Vachss novel that I’ve read but it was an interesting variation of the Red Harvest scenario. I think it was Jason Carter who told a great story on this site about Ellroy claiming ( in typical Ellroy fashion) that Vachss’ eyepatch alternated between eyes every time Ellroy saw him!

    And nice teaser for the upcoming book!

    • January 12, 2022 8:37 am

      Thanks Dan, my rewrite is due in at the end of this month and I think not too long after that we will finally be in a place where we can make an announcement. I can’t wait to share it with the readers here, in the Ellroysphere and the wider world.

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