SignWave: An Aftershock Novel by Andrew Vachss

When the Burke series ended, Andrew Vachss wasted no time in crafting another gripping series: Dell and Dolly, a former legionnaire and a retired nurse from Doctors Without Borders who escape into the Pacific Northwest, only to find a battleground just as treacherous as the African war zone in which they met: suburban America.


Kirkus calls the books “meditations on the Zen of violence,” but to me they capture the fierce flame of unforgettable characters. Dell and Dolly are warriors to the core, and Dell has no compunctions about putting heads on pikes to warn invaders aware from their village–though he does so figuratively, with Vachss’s trademark paranoid spycraft, a realistic imperative for anyone operating in our surveillance society.

Each book explores a different facet of the dark heart of town life: Aftershock focused on rape culture in high school, and one girl’s explosive response; Shockwave, on the permanent homeless population, those who care for, or prey on them, and the equally hidden racial hate groups that operate among us; and Signwave moves up the food chain to pit Dolly vs. a hedge fund manager who comes to town promoting “Art” and “Culture” while “protecting the environment,” who may be a lot more than he seems.

Vachss excels at exposing abusive power relationships that our society has come to accept as normal, and baring them for what they are. Signwave is no exception. The trip through Dell’s mind is worth the price of admission- you never get a better “tour guide through hell” than when you’re reading a Vachss novel- but the poignant barbs that expose the rotten core of corruption we have come to embrace are what drives this new series, as dark and gripping as anything he has ever written.

Releases in June. Preorder your copy here. Read an EXCERPT on Andrew Vachss’s website.

Or, to quote Andrew from Facebook, ask your local library to order you a copy.

The Fear Index

I’ve written before about how crime is down but reporting is at an all time high. The news media, primarily television, has taken “if it bleeds it leads” to a whole new level in the United States. There was a comparison about how Canadian news handled the Ottawa Parliament shooting vs. the sensationalistic so-called reporting we got here in the States. This picture sums it up:


This constant baseline of fear is not good for us. The stress will certainly affect our health, but it clearly affects our judgment . Take for example this terrifying 40 truck convoy on the Virginia highway, and how it was immediately spun into a conspiracy involving FEMA camps, forced flu vaccines (the horror!) Ebola and martial law – (from Snopes):

I can tell you one thing. These trucks are transporting more than you think ? It’s all starting. Some will know what I’m talking about and other’s will just keep believing what FOX news tells them and vote for the candidate who lies the best ! We are SOOO screwed !

Well, we who are paying attention, know something big is going to happen for sure and really soon ! So many things and all of them are so close together…….. I see a dictatorship being announced, military hitting the streets, jets overhead, forced Ebola/flu immunizations (rather true or not) Martial Law, food/water shortages, etc……. We’ll see ?


What was this obvious chicanery, this plot against our liberty, this sure sign of the coming Obamapocalypse?

A charity event for the Special Olympics.

From the World’s Largest Truck Convoy website:

The truck convoy is a unique one-day celebration where police escort a convoy of trucks through cities and towns in 38 states and Canada. The event helps raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics athletes. About 110 vehicles participated in the ride.

In 2013, over $20,000 was raised with 49 trucks participating in Virginia’s nearly 50-mile round-trip convoy along Interstate 95 from Caroline County to Henrico County, according to a press release sent by Virginia State police.

Now that’s pretty damn cool. Makes me wish I was a truck driver. I’ve volunteered with special young adults since high school, and I respect those who give their time to help them and their families. But it goes to show you that if you’re afraid all the time, everything you see is a potential threat. I am a firm believer in Situational Awareness, but that doesn’t mean being paranoid. It means being aware. Our response to threats is beyond all proportion. Look for example how we are responding to the Ebola crisis in Africa. By trying to close our borders and penalize anyone who is actually doing anything to stop it at its source.

Part of this is because our science education is lacking. Ebola is not a threat to a country with a strong healthcare infrastructure, who follow scientific protocols and do not fall victim to superstition. Well no wonder America is scared, we’ve strayed from those principles for a long time. We like calling our health care system the best, but th only Ebola patient who died in America was sent home with an antibiotic because he didn’t have health insurance. Yeah, really.

So maybe we should be scared, just a little. I wouldn’t want to go to a hospital where there was an Ebola patient, because 48,000 Americans die each year from infections contracted while in the hospital. Whether it’s pneumonia or Legionnaire’s Disease, we have a bad track record. Probably because for-profit hospitals don’t have to follow strict protocols or suffer consequences for not fixing endemic problems. I’m not a fan of having to pay $5,000 a year my health care and then pay co-pays and deductibles. Those “crazy” tax rates in countries with universal health care and college education start looking mighty sweet. But then we’d never get over having to pay for a fellow citizen’s health without judging them. Because we’ve never learned to judge not, lest we be judged. Our own mistakes are unavoidable, forgivable; the mishaps of others are moral failures that must be punished, with redemption denied for eternity.

Andrew Vachss’s latest work, a graphic novel adaptation of UNDERGROUND, with Chet Williamson, focuses on what happens when media becomes marketing mind-control:

“This myth-shattering graphic novel challenges readers to re-examine how the media “governs” their lives, whether in print, over the airwaves, or online. A chilling account of willingly-embraced oppression and abandonment of individual autonomy in exchange for the predictability and comfort of fascism, Underground is a new genre: the Graphic Novel presented as Visual Cinema. Adapted from the original screenplay of Andrew Vachss by Mike Richardson (47 Ronin, Crimson Empire, The Secret) and noted author Chet Williamson, with art by Dominic Reardon best known for his work on 2000 A.D.”

It is available in comic book shops now, but by purchasing or pre-ordering the book through the AMAZON SMILE program, a percentage of the sale will be donated to PROTECT, at no cost to you. You can sign up for Amazon Smile, and learn more about the program here:


Shockwave by Andrew Vachss


Fans of Burke should know that Andrew Vachss has two new series- the hardboiled Cross and Crew books (Blackjack, Urban Renewal) and the newer Aftershock series,  in which Dell and Dolly–a Legionnaire and a nurse with Medecins Sans Frontieres--make a new life in a bucolic Pacific northwest town with a seamy underbelly and a feckless D.A. In Aftershock, Dell and Dolly had to do the DA’s work for him vs. a serial rape group; in Shockwave, the latest, they help a homeless schizophrenic after he’s arrested for a crime he couldn’t possibly have accomplished, the execution-style murder of a white supremacist bootboy. 

Dell and Dolly needed rest from their battlefield lives but can’t keep from doing what they do best. One healing, the other blending into the “jungle” to eliminate the enemy and protect his chosen comrades. Real and unforgettable characters in a domestic life that operates like a resistance cell, rooting out the invaders in their midst.  I enjoyed both these books for the home life of two warriors recovering from damage to their souls, and for the frank look at how the criminal justice system cherry-picks cases, whether they be sexual assault or murder. Part thriller, part investigative journalism, all hard-hitting fiction, as you’d expect from Vachss.

Click here to read an excerpt, and here to pre-order.


Urban Renewal – the return of Cross and Crew!

Urban Renewal – the return of Cross and Crew!

urban renewal

Characters that pop off the page, but behave like a real outlaw family in the ice cold criminal heart of Chicago, this is modern pulp at its best. Princess was born in a cage and never starts a fight… but ends one with a one-man war. Buddha is as laser-accurate with a pistol as he is behind the wheel of their armored street rod. Rhino is a walking man mountain, Ace an assassin with a sawed-off so short it might as well be a hand grenade… Tiger, as beautiful and deadly as the beast whose name she takes, and Cross, a walking set of crosshairs that you never want to find aimed at you. They’re carving themselves a home, and anyone who gets in their way is landfill…
And Andrew Vachss donated his new author photo to PROTECT, so they get paid for the licensing. A great idea to keep revenue streaming to a great cause.

Confronting the Devil on your Shoulder

I’m back at The Good Men Project talking about self-repair. Dealing with emotional abuse, getting clued in by Andrew Vachss, and how I broke the cycle.

Confronting the Devil on Your Shoulder

photo: hatchibombotar / flickr

“…with enough reinforcement, whether it comes from peers or parents, the recipient begins to believe what’s being said. Long after the bully is gone, the devil on their shoulder whispers self-hate, repeating the litany of abuse.”

In the article, I link to “You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart” by Andrew Vachss, which is nearly 20 years old now. It look a long time for me to put his words to good use.

Salute These Shorts

I love short stories. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them, because they are a pain in the ass. Sure, you can get the whole idea in your head at once, but there’s no room for error. So when I read a great one, I sit in awe. Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, by Fritz Leiber

This one felt silly when I first read it, but now that we have cell phones, ol’ Fritz is laughing in his grave.

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, by Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel paints pain so beautifully, without ever using fancy brushes.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. LeGuin

An incredible fable that puts civilization in perspective and asks us why we can’t walk away.

The Gentle Way, by Lawrence Block (available in his collection “Enough Rope”)

Mr. Block writes damn fine short stories. This one, about an animal shelter dealing with a vandal, resonates deeply. His excellent story “See the Woman” is available online.

Placebo, by Andrew Vachss (Available in his collection “Born Bad,” and also in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.) You can read the also-excellent “Working Roots” free here on his website.

Placebo is a pared down work of great power. Working Roots is a gritty urban fairy tale. I wish Andrew Vachss would write a novel about these kids.

Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. aka Alice Sheldon.

How do you end violence? The answer is simple, if unpleasant.

Speech Sounds, by Octavia Butler
The last Ms. Butler is interviewed by Charlie Rose here:

The late, great Ms. Butler captures the terror of a true apocalypse and losing the power to communicate in this gut puncher.

The Man from the South, by Roald Dahl

One of my favorite horror tales. You’ll be clutching your fingers!

The Chaser, by John Collier

One of the funniest and best short story writers, Collier is oft forgotten but has many lessons to teach writers today and many joys to bring readers for centuries hence.

The Appointment in Samarra, by Somerset Maugham

A classic bit of flash fiction.

Why I Live at the P.O., by Eudora Welty

A great picture of a family from one of its loony members.

A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor

If you don’t like this story, hit yourself in the face.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell

The inspiration for “The Thing,” this one is terrifying on a cellular level.

“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” by Harlan Ellison. He has written a ridiculous amount of great short stories. How to choose one? This has always been the most memorable to me. A supercomputer destroys humanity in retribution for creating him–a genius who cannot truly move, feel or love– but he saves five individuals to torture for eternity. Misanthropy at its most dire. A close second is “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” a wonderful fantasy story about a man who guards the “clock” that keeps the world from doomsday, and how he shares a moment with a veteran wracked with survivor’s guilt. The first is available in the collection of the same name, the second is in “Angry Candy.” I am also fond of the entire collection :”Deathbird Stories,” especially the title story, which retells Genesis from Satan’s–I mean “Snake’s” point of view.

Protectors Book Signings by Andrew Vachss, Zak Mucha and Michael A. Black

If you’re in the Chicago area in mid-November- bring a coat, and visit one of two bookstores hosting signings of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT –

On November 15th, at Open Books, Andrew Vachss, Michael A. Black, and Zak Mucha will be there to sign Protectors and other books. Artist Geoff Darrow will also be there to sign Shaolin Cowboy. They have a limited number of copies of Protectors on hand. Sales of all books will benefit PROTECT and children’s literacy in Chicago.

On November 16th, the same crew is heading to Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park. C&S also has copies of Protectors on hand for purchase. The full event details are available here.