Andrew Henry Vachss (born October 19, 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.
Vachss' last name rhymes with "tax". He is a native New Yorker.
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, including malaria and malnutrition, 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 33 novels and three 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: his 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, 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, 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. On July 10, 2012, Vachss' released Blackjack: A Cross Novel, which marked the start of a new series focused on the mercenary Cross and his crew. In 2013, Vachss' released another series of books, with the first novel entitled Aftershock.
Vachss has collaborated on works with authors Jim Colbert (Cross, 1995) and Joe R. Lansdale (Veil's Visit, 1999). He has also created illustrated works with artists Frank Caruso (Heart Transplant, 2010) and Geof Darrow (Another Chance to Get It Right, 1993;Dead Reliable, 2012).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.