Two Trains Running (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – 6 Jun 2006
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In the fall, two rival New York mobs discover Locke City; each demands a piece of the action threatening Beaumont. First the Italian mafia tries to push Beaumont around; soon afterward an Irish mob offers Beaumont a deal in which they receive a cut in exchange for tossing out the Italians and crushing the blacks. Beaumont has his own plan taking advantage of the ethnic hatred and distrust by bringing in his own killing machine Walker Dett. However, in the midst of compiling one hit after another by outflanking the Italians, the Irish and the blacks, Walker falls in love. Will a woman soften this hit machine?
Though Burke-less, TWO TRAINS RUNNING is a fabulous testosterone filled historical thriller that grips the audience once the mobs arrive at Locke City, but especially takes off when Walker starts his destruction. Royal will remind the audience of Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men while Dett steals the show as a perfect killer until the intriguing twist of when he meets Tussy; that actually slows down the flow of blood (what can one expect with sex, naps, and showers) yet humanizes him. Andrew Vachss is at his action packed best with this convergence of dark forces in a small town in 1959.
But what Beaumont doesn't know is that changes are brewing and boiling up all over: the civil rights movement is taking off and becoming radical in the poorer black section of town, a group of Irish Catholic men are planning that the country must soon have a new kind of president, a man "like them," there is an Aryan white power group making hidden and undercover plans of their own, and a few members of the FBI who have the idea that it's time for independent thinking, are selling weapons to the more violent gangs in order to make a case against them. Into this pressure cooker is thrown a cop and a newspaperman. The result is violent in the extreme.
TWO TRAINS RUNNING almost takes place in real time, with chapters dated and time stamped to show that we are getting a glimpse of action that's taking place at the same moment all over town. There's no one lead protagonist, but more of a large cast of characters. The novel is closer to a fast cut movie than a book, with dialogue taking up a large percentage of the pages. The author, Andrew Vachss, takes a lot of time detailing each and every character's description, from the color and type of boot on their feet to the two buttons opened at a neckline. The minutia of details makes TWO TRAINS RUNNING very visual, again underlining the idea that this is more like a movie than a written story.
I find myself agreeing with Bruen's superlatives. "Two Trains Running" is a remarkable novel that can be enjoyed on several different levels. On the surface, it is a kick-butt pulp crime fiction, a hardboiled and tight-lipped gem reminiscent of Jim Thompson or Raymond Chandler. A level deeper, you've got an authentic slice of late-Eisenhower America that includes the racial tension, gangs, drugs, and corruption not often depicted in the old "Happy Days" nostalgia typically associated with this era that was setting up the mayhem for the turbulent 60s. And then, running through it all is a near supernatural undercurrent that can only be described as weirdness - a surreal tone that reminds one of the brutal and bizarre "Sin City", Frank Miller's comic book nightmare brought to garish life on the big screen.
The story unfolds in Locke City, and decaying mid-America mill town run by wheelchair-bound boss Royal Beaumont and his unmarried sister Cynthia. Unlike most pulp fiction which it mimics - or perhaps parodies - Vachss' "Two Trains" is epic in scope - long and convoluted, with multiple subplots and even more messages to sort through and ponder. Beaumont brings to town Walker Dett, an enigmatic hit man hired to thwart encroachment by an emerging Mafioso. It is soon clear that Dett is not what he seems, but what he is is an entirely different matter. And if you're like me, he will having you guessing right up to the last bloody page.
A couple of words of caution: this is a long and complex novel that should not be read casually or sporatically. Vachss paints this masterpiece with lots of parallel stories and a rich set of characters, told in a staccato shorthand that may have you scratching your head and thumbing back through pages to pick up the thread. It is beautifully blunt and as far from politically correct as you can get, so the more sensitive readers may be offended by frequent use of racial slurs blatant bigotry. But in the end this is a brilliant example of crime fiction smashed together with cutting social commentary, a vivid and intelligent story that will not easily be forgotten. Bravo, Mr. Vachss.