THAT’S HOW I ROLL by Andrew Vachss

Pantheon
Publication date: 3/20/2012

I have a true love/hate relationship with Andrew Vachss. When I read his work, I go back and forth between enjoying it and wanting to scream at him. I feel he has a major tendency to preach and grandstand with severe pretentious overtones. Take his Burke series…18 fucking books. Half of those suck, a few are really good, and the rest are just mediocre. I also need to mention how some of his characters (the Professor and Michelle from the Burke series for example) make me want to scream from how much I hate them. They annoy the shit out of me. That series should have died around book 8 or 9. His stand alone novels are something else. I cannot find a thing wrong with any of them. Two Trains Running, Shella, and The Getaway Man are among those titles. Those are solid books. Yes, in some ways, Vachss books are like Ramones or AC/DC albums: the only things that will change are the covers, the content is all built on the same chord progression and drum beat. Follow me? Good.

That’s How I Roll is the story of Esau Till, a wheelchair-bound assassin. It begins with Till on death row writing his story. He is not doing it for money or fame; he’s doing it to protect his little brother Tory. Tory is a giant with freakish strength but the mind of a child. Till himself was born with Spina bifida. Till and his brother are the offspring of incest between their older sister and father. The area they live in is nameless, but I picture it to be some rural area of West Virginia or Pennsylvania coal mining country. Till has genius level intelligence. He uses it to protect himself and his brother by making himself useful to the local organized crime bosses as an assassin. Till knows money buys protection and that he won’t be around forever because of his disease. He has to know his brother will always be safe and that is his ultimate undoing. As Till sits on death row waiting for the needle, he uses his brain to plan out how his brother will be kept safe long after his death.

Something I loved about this book was the character Lansdale, who is one of the local crime bosses. Lansdale is clearly based on the writer Joe Lansdale, with whom Vachss shares a long-time real life friendship. As you read the description of Lansdale, you can sense that Vachss holds Joe in high regard. In both Lansdale’s and Vachss’s writing you will find references to the other’s work. Actually, that’s how I discovered Joe Lansdale in the first place. I feel Lansdale is one of the greatest living American writers of crime fiction, next to James Ellroy. Vachss can’t hold a candle to either of them. There is something about Vachss that, no matter what, I’ll read whatever he publishes even if it’s only to tear it apart. That’s more than I can say about most writers out there.

The downside to this book is that it clocks in at around 213 pages – the first 50 of which are Till preaching his reasons for writing his life story. That made me want to scream. When the story finally kicks in, between the never-ending preaching and the actual story, you blink and it’s over. Vachss seems to go short on details and leaves most to the imagination. Maybe it’s because he needs the space to get his personal beliefs out there.

As I write this, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the book. I do want to thank Mr. Vachss for one thing in particular and that is turning me on to Joe Lansdale. If you are unfamiliar with vachss’s other work, this is a good place to start…..my first Vachss, you know like fisher price?

Dave Wahlman