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Two Trains Running. Pantheon Books; 2005; 112 pages; $25.

FROM THE DUST JACKET: Electrifying, compelling, and ultimately terrifying, Two Trains Running is a galvanizing evocation of that moment in our history when the violent forces that would determine America's future were just beginning to roil below the surface.

Once a devastated mill town, by 1959 Locke City has established itself as a thriving center of vice tourism. The city is controlled by boss Royal Beaumont, who took it by force many years ago and has held it against all comers since.

Now his domain is being threatened by an invading crime syndicate. But in a town where crime and politics are virtually indivisible, there are other players awaiting their turn onstage. Emmett Till's lynching has inflamed a nascent black revolutionary movement. A neo-Nazi organization is preparing for a race war. Juvenile gangs are locked in a death struggle over useless pieces of "turf." And some shadowy group is supplying them all with weapons. With an IRA unit and a Mafia family also vying for local supremacy, it's no surprise that the whole town is under FBI surveillance. But that agency is being watched, too.

Beaumont ups the ante by importing a hired killer, Walker Dett, a master tactician whose trademark is wholesale destruction. But there are a number of wild cards in this game, including Jimmy Procter, an investigative reporter whose tools include stealth, favor-trading, and blackmail, and Sherman Layne, the one clean Locke City cop, whose informants range from an obsessed "watcher" who patrols the edge of the forest, where cars park for only one reason, to the madam of the county's most expensive bordello. But Layne is guarding a secret of his own, one that could destroy more than his career. Even the most innocent are drawn into the ultimate-stakes game -- like Tussy Chambers, the beautiful waitress whose mystically deep connection with Walker Dett might inadvertently ignite the whole combustible mix.

In a stunning departure from his usual territory, Andrew Vachss gives us a masterful novel that is also an epic story of postwar America. Not since Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest has there been as searing a portrait of corruption in a small town. This is Vachss's most ambitious, innovative, and explosive work yet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Publishers Weekly: Vachss's latest, set in 1959, leaves recurring character Burke behind to explore the teeming, clannish, race-driven underside of American politics. The Southern town of Locke City, at the mountainous foot of the rust belt, has become the vice-driven fief of one Royal Beaumont, a wheelchair-bound "hillbilly" who indulges in casual incest and rules the town by force. When the New York Mafia tries to cut in on the action, Beaumont fights back, determined to protect his stake -- and the town's racial composition, especially with a stealthy local black militant cell gaining in strength. Michael Shalare's Irish mob arrives and proposes a truce on the grounds that once "our man" Kennedy gets in, the Italians will be "told" to leave, and racial as well as monetary order will be preserved. The book is broken by episodic bursts of dialogue with time-stamp headings ("1959 October 04 Sunday 20:46")... The pace is good and the plot is riveting.

Kirkus Reviews: There's plot and counterplot as hard guys maneuver for position and form unlikely alliances.... Dark, violent, blood-drenched, page-turning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Andrew Vachss is the author of many novels and of two collections of short stories. He has written for Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, and The New York Times, among other publications. He divides his time between New York City and the Pacific Northwest.

A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR: "The first question everybody is going to ask about the new book is, 'Where is Burke and why is Burke not in Two Trains Running'?"

"I don't know how to respond to that question," Mr. Vachss said. "I don't have an obligation to produce Burke novels on any regular basis. There are other things that I want to do, and Burke isn't a suitable vehicle to do them. It's not any more complicated than that. In order to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with this book, a Burke book isn't the right tool for the job. There will be more Burke books. It isn't as if I had to choose between the two. I've actually been working on this book for years and years and years, right through the Burke books."

Two Trains Running begins on September 28, 1959, at 9:22 in the evening and ends on October 12, 1959, at 9:22 in the evening."

"It's literally 14 days."

"How did you happen to set the book in this way?"

"The only way to do what I wanted to do was to be a journalist, so that I'm giving you surveillance logs." Mr. Vachss, who has written elsewhere that he has "always regarded [him]self more as a journalist than a novelist," explained that these "logs" allowed him to compress the ongoing action, or acts, leaving "no rest" between one act and the next. "You don't have that leaden exposition; it's all happening at the same time, so that if you go from one set of characters speaking to another set of characters speaking, the time lapse between them is where the third set of characters could be speaking. So you get the sense that it's all happening at the same time. Without that I think it wouldn't have worked. Because you would have had to fill in too many gaps."

"You would have had to write too many green trees and too many long and winding roads."

"I also would have had to account for time, because there were so many things set in motion, that if you let two or three months go by, you'd have to resolve all those things. There are many, many, many things intentionally not resolved in this book. You're supposed to be left with the sense of on-rushing events."

"This book takes a good reader. The more experienced a reader you are, the better this book 'reads' for you."

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