Burke is the protagonist of the Burke Series by Andrew Vachss. He is a career criminal, an orphan raised by the State who was abused throughout his childhood in state institutions and foster homes. Burke lives in New York City, always on the edges of society. He makes his money as an off-the-books investigator, finding runaways, locating criminals for bounty, and other assorted scams.
Burke is a mercenary, a man-for-hire, a career criminal (and two-time felony loser). The prototypical abused child: hyper-vigilant, distrustful, and, in Burke's case, intensely bonded to his "family of choice," a collection of outlaws who had nothing in common but their membership in that vast tribe I called the "Children of the Secret." Burke became the antithesis of the "White Knight" so beloved of detective fiction.
I intended the book as a Trojan horse. A crime novel that pulls the reader into the story at the same time it delivers a steady diet of hardcore reality... Even the name "Burke" is part of that. The infamously homicidal partnership of Burke and Hare began as a graverobbing enterprise. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the duo supplied the local medical school with fresh cadavers. When they finally emptied the graveyard, they began to create their own "product," by opening a hotel. Very few guests checked out. Because they could not present a corpse with fresh wounds to the medical school, Burke became so adept at killing without leaving marks that, to this day, the phrase "to Burke" means just that.
– Andrew Vachss, Contemporary Authors, 2003
I wanted to show people what hell looked like, and I didn't think an angel would be the right guide. You know, the standard protagonist in detective fiction is sort of better than everything — kind of looks at it, comments on it, but is detached from it. I wanted no membrane between the reader and the material. I wanted to make [Burke] as transparent as possible, so I had to make him part of it, instead of somebody simply investigating it.
– Andrew Vachss, The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel, CBS