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True Justice

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Infanticide has become a minor epidemic in New York City as Butch Karp faces another day as chief assistant district attorney for New York County. Jack Keegan, the district attorney, is worried about the political fallout and instructs Karp to handle the cases with Keegan's political career in mind. What is particularly problematic is that local television got its hands on a video of a dog digging up one of the infant corpses.

Gruesome. It gets more so. A friend of Karp's teenage daughter, Lucy, returns home one day to find her parents murdered and her younger brother hiding under clothes in a closet. An African worker for an interior decorator who was remodeling the flat is accused when earrings owned by one of the victims are discovered in the worker's toolbox. Karp's daughter happens to have been with the friend when the murder was discovered.

Karp is married to a former assistant district attorney turned bodyguard for battered women. Marlene Ciampi is picking up a battered woman and her child from a shelter to go to a meeting with the woman's husband when the husband starts shooting, killing the woman. Marlene manages to shoot the man to death before he kills the child.

The novel is messy. It is Robert K. Tannenbaum's 12th work of fiction, and as usual, he captures the ambience of New York City life. A former homicide bureau chief of the New York District Attorney's office, he has the credentials to know his subject. He deals in many of his novels with the politics of the office as easily as he does with the crimes that set the stage for the action, suspense and drama.

The atmosphere of the district attorney's office is stuffy, hectic and maddening, but Karp's home life provides little relief. Although he and Marlene are the proud parents of twin boys, Zik and Zak, who have moved slightly beyond the toddler stage, in addition to Lucy, both husband and wife are busy with their careers. And after the shooting of the battered woman, Marlene has decided to quit the security business and become a full-time mother. She manages to pay attention to home life for mere moments before being drawn into the job as defense attorney for a young woman in Delaware accused of murdering her infant within minutes after it has been born.

Traditional America this is not. Lucy Karp is a devout Catholic and a firmly pro-life activist even as her mother is pro-choice. Butch Karp attempts to be the moderate. The issues of culpability for infanticide are dealt with sporadically, but provide an undercurrent throughout the novel as if the author seeks to move beyond entertainment into social commentary. There is a lot going on throughout the plot but depravity seems to win in the end.


In the end, the author leaves us with the argument that true justice is relative. So is the merit of this novel.

Marlene has a fling with her co-counsel without any apparent twinge of conscience and life goes on as usual. She focuses on her career with no sense that she has any responsibility for anyone but herself. It is the modern family without any apologies.

The characters in the book lack nobility, but have a twisted version of honor as they respond to the inner workings of the judicial systems in New York and Delaware. Courtroom scenes are entertaining if not completely realistic. Each of the plots and subplots is tied up neatly at the end but the life perspective and values remain unchanged without remorse. If you are an attorney, insolvency specialist, accountant or deal-maker whose time is at a premium but you have down time on the airplanes, is this the book to take with you?

If you want a pure legal thriller, this is not for you. The social commentary undercurrent is too pervasive to ignore, and its tensions remain unresolved. In the end, the author leaves us with the argument that true justice is relative. So is the merit of this novel. I can't do it true justice.

Journal Date: 
Friday, December 1, 2000

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