Andrew Henry Vachss (born 1942) is an American crime fiction author, child protection consultant, and attorney exclusively representing children and youths. He is also a founder and national advisory board member of PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children.
Before becoming a lawyer, Vachss held many front-line positions in child protection. He was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, and a New York City social-services caseworker. He worked in Biafra, entering the war zone just before the fall of the country. There he worked to find a land route to bring donated food and medical supplies across the border after the seaports were blocked and Red Cross airlifts banned by the Nigerian government; however, all attempts ultimately failed, resulting in rampant starvation. After he returned and recovered from his injuries, Vachss studied community organizing in 1970 under Saul Alinsky. He worked as a labor organizer and ran a self-help center for urban migrants in Chicago. He then managed a re-entry program for ex-convicts in Massachusetts, and finally directed a maximum-security prison for violent juvenile offenders.
As an attorney, Vachss represents only children and adolescents. In addition to his private practice, he serves as a law guardian in New York state. In every child abuse or neglect case, state law requires the appointment of a law guardian, a lawyer who represents the child's interests during the legal proceedings.
Andrew Vachss is the author of 25 novels and two collections of short stories, as well as poetry, plays, song lyrics, and graphic novels. As a novelist, he is perhaps best known for his Burke series of hardboiled mysteries; Another Life constituted the finale to the series.
Since completing the Burke series, Vachss has focused on stand-alone works. His 2009 novel, Haiku, focuses on the troubled lives of a band of homeless men in New York City. In 2010, Vachss published two books. Released in November, Vachss' novel The Weight, is a noir romance involving a professional thief and a young widow in hiding. Heart Transplant, an illustrated novel in an experimental design, was released in October. It tells the story of an abused and bullied young boy who finds his inner strength with the help of an unexpected mentor.
Vachss has also written non-fiction, including numerous articles and essays on child protection and a book on juvenile criminology. 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. Vachss' literary awards include the Grand Prix de Littérature Policiére, for Strega [as La Sorcière de Brooklyn]; the Falcon Award, Maltese Falcon Society of Japan, for Strega; the Deutsche Krimi Preis for Flood [as Kata]; and the Raymond Chandler Award for his body of work.
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.
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. In the Burke novels, some of these Children of the Secret have banded together as adults into what Vachss calls a "family of choice". 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. Throughout his writings, Vachss asserts that with dogs, just as with humans, "you get what you raise."
"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.
He is a passionate advocate against animal abuse such as dog-fighting, and against breed-specific legislative bans. 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. 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.
Vachss' wife, Alice, was a sex crimes prosecutor, and later became Chief of the Special Victims Bureau in Queens, NY. 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.
- Flood (1985)
- Strega (1987)
- Blue Belle (1988)
- Hard Candy (1989)
- Blossom (1990)
- Sacrifice (1991)
- Down in the Zero (1994)
- Footsteps of the Hawk (1995)
- False Allegations (1996)
- Safe House (1998)
- Choice of Evil (1999)
- Dead and Gone (2000)
- Pain Management (2001)
- Only Child (2002)
- Down Here (2004)
- Mask Market (2006)
- Terminal (2007)
- Another Life (2008)
- A Bomb Built in Hell (1973)
- Shella (1993)
- Batman: The Ultimate Evil (1995)
- The Getaway Man (2003)
- Two Trains Running (2005)
- Haiku (2009)
- The Weight (November 9, 2010)
- Born Bad (1994)
- Everybody Pays (1999)
- Proving It (2001) Audiobook collection.
- Dog Stories Online collection.
- Hard Looks (1992–93) Ten-volume series.
- Batman: The Ultimate Evil (1995) Two-volume graphic novel.
- Cross (1995) Seven-volume series with James Colbert.
- Predator: Race War (1993) Five-volume series; (1995) Single-volume graphic novel, collection of 1993 series.
- Alamaailma (1997) Finnish graphic novel, illustrating two of the "Underground" short stories from Born Bad.
- Hard Looks (1996, 2002) Single-volume trade paperback.
- Another Chance To Get It Right: A Children's Book for Adults (1993, 1995) (Reprinted with additional material, 2003)
- Heart Transplant (October 19, 2010)
- The Life-Style Violent Juvenile: The Secure Treatment Approach (Lexington, 1979)
- The Child Abuse-Delinquency Connection — A Lawyer's View (Lexington, 1989)
- PARADE Magazine Articles (1985-2006)
- Other Articles and Essays
Honors and awards
- A/V Peer Review (highest rating) by Martindale-Hubbell
- LL.D. (Hon.) Case Western Reserve University, 2004
- First Annual Harvey R. Houck Award (Justice for Children) 2003
- First Annual Illuminations Award (St. Vincent's Center National Child Abuse Prevention Program) 2003
- John Hay Whitney Foundation Fellow, 1976
- Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute Fellow, 1970
- "The Law: Taking on Children as Clients," New York Times, January 17, 1988
- National Association to Protect Children
- Pronunciation of "Vachss"
- Andrew Vachss, The Zero
- "Andrew Vachss Does Not Paint Pretty Pictures," Reuters, November 9, 2000
- "Andrew Vachss: Beating the Devil," Gallery Magazine, April, 2000
- "Andrew Vachss: Hot Biafra Nights," Mumblage, September, 2000.
- "Nigeria Bans Red Cross Aid to Biafra," BBC News
- "The Secession That Failed," TIME, January, 1970
- Testimony of Andrew Vachss, U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, November 10, 1998
- Andrew Vachss, Contemporary Authors, 2003
- Andrew Vachss: Guidelines for Acceptance of a Child's Case
- McKinney's Cons. Laws of NY, Book 29A, Family Ct. Act §§ 241-249.
- 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.
- Index of author's written works
- Finale of Burke series
- US publication date of Another Life
- The Weight
- Heart Transplant
- Articles and essays on child protection
- On designing prisons for violent youth, Andrew Vachss interview, 2009
- "Andrew Vachss: A Man Who Will Die Trying," by Paula Guran, Horror Online, May 1999
- "Children of the Secret"
- Andrew Vachss discusses his use of "family of choice," Family of Choice webcast, January 14, 2009
- "A Conversation with Andrew Vachss," Blur Magazine, March 1997
- Dog stories
- "Goodbye Burke, Hello Andrew," The Independent, January 19, 2009
- "Unleashing the Criminal Mind," San Francisco Examiner, July 12, 1990
- Breed-specific legislation
- Training assistance dogs for child protection proceedings
- Sheba, child protection assistance dog
- Alice Vachss website
- The Cult interview by Rob W. Hart
- The Independent (Ireland) interview by Ian O'Doherty
- Amazon interview of Andrew Vachss on his final Burke novel