New York City may be a jungle for chief assistant DA Butch Karp and his wife Marlene Ciampi, retired from her private-security firm to train serious guard dogs, but they find the hills of West Virginia just as violent.
Vacationing on Long Island’s North Shore, Marlene’s struck up a child-fueled friendship with Rose Wickham Heeney, who left the area as an idealistic young woman to work as an environmental activist in McCullensburg and stayed to marry firebrand union organizer Red Heeney. Marlene and Butch both note that Red’s social skills, honed by his hopeless candidacy for the union presidency, are in need of polishing, but she’s shocked to hear that Red, on his return home, has been shot to death along with Rose and their daughter Lizzie. When the local cops immediately arrest Moses Welch, a local simpleton who couldn’t possibly have masterminded the killings, Red’s son Dan, an MIT freshman who’s developed a warm friendship with Butch and Marlene’s daughter Lucy, asks Marlene to come down and help Welch’s sozzled public defender keep the client from getting railroaded. Almost before his wife’s unpacked, Butch has his own invitation from the West Virginia governor, who’s looking for an independent special prosecutor to clean out Robbens County without stirring up sentiment against the state house. Though the stage seems set for a backwoods Adam’s Rib, with Butch and Marlene swapping insults and witticisms under the conference table, legal wrangles concerning who slaughtered the Heeneys swiftly change into what look like cooperative attempts to bring the perps to justice in a county whose every public official depends on the corrupting influence of big coal. The incredible answer marks a serious compromise of Tanenbaum’s usually unerring eye for moral complexity.
Otherwise: Butch and Marlene’s 14th outing (Enemy Within, 2001, etc.) is among their most straightforward, with Lucy’s budding romance with Dan Heeney practically the only trace of the family’s normally teeming byways.