Andrew Vachss

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Andrew Henry Vachss (born October 19, 1942) is an American crime fiction author, child protection consultant, and attorney exclusively representing children and youths.[1] He is also a founder and national advisory board member of PROTECT.[2]

Vachss' last name rhymes with "tax".[3] He is a native New Yorker.


Before becoming a lawyer, Vachss held many front-line positions in child protection.[4] He was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, and a New York City social-services caseworker. He worked in Biafra,[5] entering the war zone just before the fall of the country.[6] There he worked to find a land route to bring donated food and medical supplies across the border[7] after the seaports were blocked and Red Cross airlifts banned by the Nigerian government;[8] however, all attempts ultimately failed, resulting in rampant starvation.[9]

After he returned and recovered from his injuries, including malaria and malnutrition,[10] Vachss studied community organizing in 1970 under Saul Alinsky.[6] He worked as a labor organizer and ran a self-help center for urban migrants in Chicago.[11] He then managed a re-entry program for ex-convicts in Massachusetts, and finally directed a maximum-security prison for violent juvenile offenders.[12]

As an attorney, Vachss represents only children and adolescents.[13] In addition to his private practice, he serves as a law guardian in New York state. In every child abuse or neglect case,[14] state law requires the appointment of a law guardian, a lawyer who represents the child's interests during the legal proceedings.[15]


Andrew Vachss is the author of 33 novels and three collections of short stories, as well as poetry, plays, song lyrics, and graphic novels.[16] As a novelist, he is perhaps best known for his Burke series of hardboiled mysteries; Another Life[17] constituted the finale to the series.[18]

Since completing the Burke series, Vachss has focused on stand-alone works. His 2009 novel, Haiku,[19] focuses on the troubled lives of a band of homeless men in New York City. In 2010, Vachss published two books: his novel The Weight,[20] is a noir romance involving a professional thief and a young widow in hiding. Heart Transplant,[21] an illustrated novel in an experimental design, tells the story of an abused and bullied young boy who finds his inner strength with the help of an unexpected mentor. That's How I Roll,[22] released in March 2012, chronicles the death-row narrative of a hired killer as he reveals the secrets of his past, both horrifying and tender. In 2012, Vachss' released Blackjack: A Cross Novel,[23] which marked the start of a new series focused on the mercenary Cross and his crew. In 2013, Vachss released the first novel in the Dell and Dolly series, entitled Aftershock.[24] The second novel in the series, Shockwave, was published in 2014.

Vachss has collaborated on works with authors Jim Colbert (Cross, 1995)[25] and Joe R. Lansdale (Veil's Visit, 1999).[26] He has also created illustrated works with artists Frank Caruso (Heart Transplant, 2010)[27] and Geof Darrow (Another Chance to Get It Right, 1993;[28] Dead Reliable, 2012).[29] Vachss' latest graphic novel, Underground, was released in November 2014.[30]

Vachss has also written non-fiction, including numerous articles and essays on child protection[31] and a book on juvenile criminology.[32] His books have been translated into 20 languages, and his shorter works have appeared in many publications, including Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, and the New York Times.[33] Vachss' literary awards include the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Strega [as La Sorcière de Brooklyn]; the Falcon Award, Maltese Falcon Society of Japan, for Strega; the Deutscher Krimi Preis for Flood [as Kata]; and the Raymond Chandler Award for his body of work.

Andrew Vachss is a member of PEN and the Writers Guild of America. His autobiographical essay was added by invitation to Contemporary Authors in 2003.

Child protection[edit]

Many of Vachss' novels feature the shadowy, unlicensed investigator Burke, an ex-con, career criminal, and deeply conflicted character. About his protagonist, Vachss says:

If you look at Burke closely, you'll see the prototypical abused child: hypervigilant, distrustful. He's so committed to his family of choice—not his DNA-biological family, which tortured him, or the state which raised him, but the family that he chose—that homicide is a natural consequence of injuring any of that family. He's not a hit man. But he shares the same religion I do, which is revenge.

— Andrew Vachss, Horror Online, May 1999.[34]

Vachss coined the phrase "Children of the Secret", which refers to abused children, of whatever age, who were victimized without ever experiencing justice, much less love and protection.[35] In the Burke novels, some of these Children of the Secret have banded together as adults into what Vachss calls a "family of choice".[36] Their connection is not biological, and their bond goes well beyond mere loyalty. Most are career criminals; none allows the law to come before the duty to family.


Another important theme that pervades Vachss' work is his love of dogs, particularly breeds considered "dangerous," such as Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and especially pit bulls.[37] Throughout his writings,[38] Vachss asserts that with dogs, just as with humans, "you get what you raise."[39]

"There's a very specific formula for creating a monster," Vachss says. "It starts with chronic, unrelenting abuse. There's got to be societal notification and then passing on. The child eventually believes that what's being done is societally sanctioned. And after a while, empathy – which we have to learn, we're not born with it – cracks and dies. He feels only his own pain. There's your predatory sociopath."

That's why Vachss posed for a recent publicity photo cradling his pit bull puppy. "You know what pit bulls are capable of, right?" he asks, referring to the animal's notorious killer reputation. "But they're also capable of being the most wonderful, sweet pets in the world, depending on how you raise them. That's all our children."

— "Unleashing the Criminal Mind," San Francisco Examiner, July 12, 1990.[40]

He is a passionate advocate against animal abuse such as dog-fighting, and against breed-specific legislative bans.[41] With fellow crime writer James Colbert, Vachss has trained dogs to serve as therapy dogs for abused children. The dogs have a calming effect on traumatized children. Vachss notes that using these particular breeds further increases the victims' feelings of security; their "dangerous" appearance, in combination with the extensive therapy training, makes them excellent protection against human threats.[42] During her time as chief prosecutor, Alice Vachss regularly brought one such trained dog, Sheba, to work with abused children being interviewed at the Special Victims Bureau.[43]

Personal life[edit]

When Vachss was 7 years old, an older boy swung a chain at his right eye. The resulting injuries damaged the eye muscles and resulted in his wearing an eyepatch.[44] According to Vachss, removing it has the effect of a strobe light flashing in his face. Vachss also has a small blue heart tattooed on his right hand.[45]

Vachss' wife, Alice, was a sex crimes prosecutor, and later became Chief of the Special Victims Bureau in Queens, New York. She is the author of the non-fiction book Sex Crimes: Ten Years on the Front Lines Prosecuting Rapists and Confronting Their Collaborators, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.[46] He is a close friend of author Joe R. Lansdale.[47][48]

Honors and Awards[edit]

Professional honors and awards[edit]

  • A/V Peer Review (highest rating) by Martindale-Hubbell [49]
  • 2004, LL.D. (Hon.) Case Western Reserve University [50]
  • 2003, First Annual Harvey R. Houck Award (Justice for Children)
  • 2003, First Annual Illuminations Award (St. Vincent's Center National Child Abuse Prevention Program)
  • 1994, Childhelp Congressional Award [51]
  • 1976, John Hay Whitney Foundation Fellow
  • 1970, Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute Fellow

Literary honors and awards[edit]


The Cross series[edit]

  1. Blackjack: A Cross Novel (2012)
  2. Urban Renewal: A Cross Novel (2014)

The Aftershock series[edit]

  1. Aftershock (2013)
  2. Shockwave (2014)
  3. Signwave (2015)

The Burke series[edit]

Main article: Burke Series
  1. Flood (1985)
  2. Strega (1987)
  3. Blue Belle (1988)
  4. Hard Candy (1989)
  5. Blossom (1990)
  6. Sacrifice (1991)
  7. Down in the Zero (1994)
  8. Footsteps of the Hawk (1995)
  9. False Allegations (1996)
  10. Safe House (1998)
  11. Choice of Evil (1999)
  12. Dead and Gone (2000)
  13. Pain Management (2001)
  14. Only Child (2002)
  15. Down Here (2004)
  16. Mask Market (2006)
  17. Terminal (2007)
  18. Another Life (2008)

Other novels[edit]

  1. Shella (1993)
  2. Batman: The Ultimate Evil (1995)
  3. The Getaway Man (2003)
  4. Two Trains Running (2005)
  5. Haiku (2009)
  6. The Weight (2010)
  7. A Bomb Built in Hell (2012)
  8. That's How I Roll (2012)

Short story collections[edit]

  1. Born Bad (1994)
  2. Everybody Pays (1999)
  3. Veil's Visit: a Taste of Hap and Leonard (1999) (A Joe R. Lansdale collection; Mr. Vachss co-wrote the eponymous first story)
  4. Proving It (2001) Audiobook collection.
  5. Dog Stories - Online collection.
  6. Mortal Lock (2013)

Graphic novels and series[edit]

  1. Hard Looks (1992–93) Ten-volume series.
  2. Batman: The Ultimate Evil (1995) Two-volume graphic novel.
  3. Cross (1995) Seven-volume series with James Colbert.
  4. Predator: Race War (1993) Five-volume series; (1995) Single-volume graphic novel, collection of 1993 series.
  5. Alamaailma (1997) Finnish graphic novel, illustrating two of the "Underground" short stories from Born Bad.
  6. Hard Looks (1996, 2002) Single-volume trade paperback.
  7. Another Chance To Get It Right: A Children's Book for Adults (1993, 1995) (Reprinted with additional material, 2003)
  8. Heart Transplant (2010)
  9. Underground (2014)


  1. Placebo (in Antaeus, 1991)
  2. Warlord (in Born Bad, 1994)
  3. Replay (in Born Bad, 1994)


  1. The Life-Style Violent Juvenile: The Secure Treatment Approach (Lexington, 1979)
  2. The Child Abuse-Delinquency Connection — A Lawyer's View (Lexington, 1989)
  3. PARADE Magazine Articles (1985–2006)

External links[edit]

Audio interviews:

Print interviews:

Video interview:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dullea, Georgia (1988-06-17). ""The Law: Taking on Children as Clients," ''New York Times,'' January 17, 1988". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  2. ^ "National Association to Protect Children". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  3. ^ "Pronunciation of "Vachss"". 1993-07-16. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  4. ^ "Andrew Vachss, ''The Zero''". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  5. ^ ""Andrew Vachss Does Not Paint Pretty Pictures," ''Reuters'', November 9, 2000". 2000-11-09. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  6. ^ a b ""Andrew Vachss: Beating the Devil," ''Gallery Magazine'', April, 2000". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  7. ^ ""Andrew Vachss: Hot Biafra Nights," ''Mumblage'', September, 2000". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  8. ^ ""Nigeria Bans Red Cross Aid to Biafra," ''BBC News''". BBC News. 1985-06-30. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  9. ^ Monday, Jan. 26, 1970 (1970-01-26). ""The Secession That Failed," ''TIME'', January, 1970". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  10. ^ ""One Sole Practitioner's Crusade: Best-Selling Novelist Has Declared War On Child Abusers," ''Lawyers Weekly USA'', November 25, 2002". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  11. ^ "Testimony of Andrew Vachss, U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, November 10, 1998". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  12. ^ "Andrew Vachss, ''Contemporary Authors'', 2003". 1983-03-04. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  13. ^ "''Andrew Vachss: Guidelines for Acceptance of a Child's Case''". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  14. ^ McKinney's Cons. Laws of NY, Book 29A, Family Ct. Act §§ 241–249.
  15. ^ Under New York law, a law guardian also must be appointed in delinquency cases. At the judge's discretion, a law guardian may be appointed for a child in a custody dispute.
  16. ^ "Index of author's written works". Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  17. ^ "Finale of Burke series". 2011-02-28. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  18. ^ "US publication date of Another Life". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  19. ^ "Haiku". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  20. ^ "The Weight". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  21. ^ "Heart Transplant". 2010-10-19. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  22. ^ "That's How I Roll". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  23. ^ "Blackjack: A Cross Novel". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  24. ^ "Aftershock by Andrew Vachss". THE ZERO. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  25. ^ "Cross (graphic series)". 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  26. ^ "Veil’s Visit". 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  27. ^ "Heart Transplant". 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  28. ^ "Another Chance to Get It Right". 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  29. ^ "Dead Reliable". 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  30. ^ "Underground". 2014-10-27. Retrieved 2014-11-10. 
  31. ^ "Articles and essays on child protection". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  32. ^ "On designing prisons for violent youth, Andrew Vachss interview, 2009". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  33. ^ "Magazines". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  34. ^ ""Andrew Vachss: A Man Who Will Die Trying", by Paula Guran, ''Horror Online,'' May 1999". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  35. ^ "Children of the Secret". 1995-11-13. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  36. ^ "Andrew Vachss discusses his use of "family of choice", Family of Choice webcast, January 14, 2009". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  37. ^ ""A Conversation with Andrew Vachss," ''Blur Magazine,'' March 1997". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  38. ^ "Dog stories". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  39. ^ Ski apps (2009-01-19). ""Goodbye Burke, Hello Andrew," ''The Independent,'' January 19, 2009". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  40. ^ ""Unleashing the Criminal Mind," ''San Francisco Examiner,'' July 12, 1990". 1990-07-12. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  41. ^ "Breed-specific legislation". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  42. ^ "Training assistance dogs for child protection proceedings". 1994-11-04. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  43. ^ "Sheba, child protection assistance dog". 1989-11-12. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  44. ^ Rahner, Mark "Vachss' Work Emanates From His Own Cold Rage" Seattle Times (October 15, 2000). Retrieved on 3-09-14.
  45. ^ Dundas, Zach "The Haunted World of Andrew Vachss" Willamette Week (November 17, 1999). Retrieved on 2-09-13.
  46. ^ "Alice Vachss website". Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  47. ^ Joe R. Lansdale and Andrew Vachss. "Blood, Kin, and Structure Pt. I". Mulholland Books. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  48. ^ Joe R. Lansdale and Andrew Vashss. "Blood, Kin, and Structure Pt. II". Mulholland Books. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  49. ^ "A/V Martindale-Hubbell rating". 
  50. ^ "LL.D (honoris causa) Case Western University, 2004". 
  51. ^ "Childhelp Congressional Award, 1994". 
  52. ^ "Raymond Chandler Award, 2000".