At the opening of DOWN IN THE ZERO, readers find Burke bitter and guilty over his inadvertent killing of a little boy, the shattering climax of Vachss’ last Burke novel, SACRIFICE (1991). For years he has done no work, constantly thinking of death, which he refers to as The Zero, a black emptiness beyond reality. He is suddenly called back into action by a telephone call from a teenage boy, the son of a woman named Cherry he knew long ago.
Burke is a man who solves crimes for a fee. He has been a convict and still engages in criminal activity, but he is fanatically against anyone who hurts children. So he leaves his usual haunts in New York City to travel to the rich Connecticut suburb where the boy, Randy, lives.
Randy tells Burke about a rash of teenage suicides, all committed by children who have been treated at a therapy center called Crystal Cove. He is sure, somehow, that he will soon join them. He says that his mother has gone to Europe, and told him to call Burke if he ever felt he was in danger.
Along the way, readers meet a host of characters from previous novels. There are also a number of new and fascinating characters, including two sisters, Fancy and Charm, with a strange incestuous relationship, and the mysterious Doctor Barrymore, who runs Crystal Cove.
DOWN IN THE ZERO is hardly a gentle book. It involves explicit sex, open violence, child abuse, and incest. Nevertheless, it is impossible to put down.