TRAGIC by Robert K. Tanenbaum


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Tanenbaum (Bad Faith, 2012, etc.) goes on the waterfront in his latest in his crime series featuring Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi.

Charlie Vitteli runs the New York City–based North American Brotherhood of Stevedores. That’s bad for its members. Vitelli wants to hold onto power and continue to take bribes for avoiding safety regulations while also dipping into embezzled pension fund money. Using Joey Barros, his razor-toting enforcer, as go-between, Vitteli contracts with a Russian mob wannabe for the assassination of a union reformer. The murder’s done, but the ugly punk from St. Petersburg is soon caught, along with two local mopes. That’s when Roger "Butch" Karp, district attorney for New York County, steps in. One of the trio turns state’s witness. The three are convicted. The Russian wannabe is quickly eliminated in a prison murder engineered by the Brighton Beach–based Malchek bratka. That convinces the other mope to turn state’s witness, and Vitteli is indicted and convicted. With killers and motives laid out, this is no page-turning whodunit. Instead, Karp flexes his Jack McCoy muscles, giving courtroom-theater fans something to do when television is bereft of Law and Order re-runs. While Marlene Ciampi is a minor player, the narrative is bloated, with some contradictions and "that can’t happen" moments. Most characters are clichés, but two or three break out: Jackie Corcione, weakling son of the union founder who is kept in line by the threat of outing his homosexuality; "Dirty Warren," Tourette’s-afflicted, street-wise newsstand operator; and Ivgeny Karchovski, retired USSR colonel and boss of a not-so-bad Russian gang, thugs who are willing to deal in illegal immigration, false papers and black markets but draw the line at drugs, guns and prostitution. Conveniently, Ivgeny is Butch’s cousin and part of an underworld pipeline. Tanenbaum tosses in quotes and references to Macbeth—"I have murdered sleep" being handy shorthand for a beleaguered conscience—but that’s an elaborate blueprint for a small structure.  

No action thriller this—it’s all courtroom drama.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3555-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2013


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