Book Review: Haiku by Andrew Vachss

Title: Haiku

Author: Andrew Vachss

Genre: Literary Fiction

Number of Pages: 224

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes

Ho is a former sensei filled with guilt after a student’s death that he could have prevented. He lives on the streets and serves as a confidante and provider of emotional support for a group of other homeless men. All these guys have different backstories and sets of circumstances: Ranger is ex-military. Lamont is a former gangbanger who had a brief stint as an acclaimed poet. Michael lost it all due to his gambling addiction.

When schizophrenic Brewster finds out that the derelict building that houses his massive paperback collection is about to be demolished with the books inside, Ho and the others decide to help him get the books out and find a safe place for them. Meanwhile, several of the guys witness a possible crime when they see someone drop something off a pier and into the water and decide to investigate.

This book has really short chapters and is a fast read, and even though the author has written a lot of mysteries (according to Goodreads, he’s written a TON of books) this is pretty lightweight as far as detective stories and noir go. Most of it focuses on Ho’s backstory (he grew up in extremely unusual circumstances and his life fell apart when a student tried to use her skills to fight her abusive stepfather and he shot her) and the question of Brewster’s book collection, which is extremely important to him and could cause him to seriously spiral if he lost it.

Ho was an interesting protagonist, but most of the supporting characters had a somewhat caricature-like quality. They didn’t seem to have much depth and possessed no more than one or two character traits. As a result, I found it hard to truly care about any of them. I found it particularly hard to find any redeeming quality in Lamont, considering the nature of the things he had probably done as a gang member and the fact that he didn’t even seem to feel regret about his past. The author seemed like he wanted readers to feel something for him, but I could only think about the lives he had probably ruined and his total lack of accountability.

Ranger and Michael could have been so much more than ‘the shell-shocked military guy’ and ‘the gambling addict.’ One thing the author was fairly successful at was showing how showing the variety of backgrounds that homeless people come from. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. He also gives largely humanizing portrayals of the cast of characters, even though I felt like the character development could have been better. I liked the storyline with Brewster’s books and how it was slightly unusual and showed how much books and reading can mean to people who don’t have much else in their lives. But the rest was… eh. I am interested in reading more by this author because I think he has a lot of potential. I just wasn’t all that impressed.

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