Malice, by Robert K. Tanenbaum

I write this review in deep sorrow. I’ve been a fan and booster of Robert K. Tanenbaum for some years now. But that’s all done, now that I’ve read Malice. Tanenbaum has lost my imprimatur. He’s become an author I can no longer support.

What hurts most is that I’m certain it’s my own fault.

If you’re an old timer here, you may recall my history with Tanenbaum. I discovered his Butch Karp/Marlene Ciampi books back in the ’80s, and enjoyed them for their vivid characters and Rabelaisian humor. But then I felt his books were getting a little raunchy for my taste, especially in terms of language, and I dropped him.

In the late ’90s I picked him up again, and it seemed to me he’d grown a great deal as an author and thinker. By this time Butch and Marlene (he’s a New York District Attorney; she’s a former lawyer, later a personal security specialist, now an independently wealthy hobby artist and dog breeder) had gotten married and were raising a family. Of particular interest was their daughter Lucie, who was both a language prodigy and a devout, practicing Catholic. Tanenbaum (like Butch Karp) is clearly Jewish himself, but he showed unusual sensitivity to Christianity in his portrayal of Lucie.

I was especially impressed with the novel True Justice, in which Karp dealt with the issues of abortion and infanticide. Although it understandably attempted to square the circle and present all sides, it depicted (through Lucie) an understanding of the pro-life position, without caricature, hard to find in contemporary literature. I was so pleased that I wrote a fan letter to Tanenbaum, telling him how much I valued his effort.

This, I’m confident, spoiled everything.

Tanenbaum, no doubt, checked out my web page, discovered what sort of a right-wing yahoo I am, and vowed on the spot to drive me, and everyone like me, away.

Not immediately. Not right off. But gradually. By stages.

First of all, he gave Lucie a boyfriend, an Arizona cowboy. And sent her happily to bed with him, without benefit of clergy. Without even any Catholic guilt.

Secondly, he introduced the character of John Jojola, a Taos Navajo reservation policeman and Native American shaman. He has led Lucie into a “deeper” spiritual understanding through his Ancient Wisdom.

And now, for the coup de grace, the first time we see Lucie in Malice, she’s taking a trip on peyote, under John Jojola’s supervision.

OK, Mr. Tanenbaum. I get the message.

The plot of this book centers on a sort of busman’s holiday for Butch Karp. On medical leave from the DA’s office (he got shot at the end of the last book), Butch is asked to help out the brother of an old teammate from his basketball playing days, a college baseball coach who’s been wrongly suspended by his college and the league.

But that’s tied to the action back in New York, where Butch’s colleagues and friends are discovering evidence of massive, world-wide criminal conspiracy. An Ancient Secret Society, a Shadow Government, an Unseen Hand behind world events.

A rip-off of The DaVinci Code, to be honest. Tanenbaum has apparently figured out that paranoia fiction is where the money is these days. Gone are the days when Butch Karp hunted down ordinary criminals and corrupt politicians. Now he’s pulling back the veil that covers the True, Occult History of the World.

You think our biggest danger today is Islamic terrorism? Ha! You’re a dupe!

The real danger is… wait for it… MANXMEN! That is, guys from the Isle of Man. (Because, I suppose, God forbid there should be any evil in the world that doesn’t spring from white males.) Islamic terrorism is just a sideshow that the Manxmen have orchestrated, to allow their puppets in the government to trample on our civil rights through the Patriot Act. (There are many references to “the loss of our civil rights” under the Patriot Act. Oddly, what rights we’ve lost is never explained.)

In other words, Tanenbaum has completely buckled to contemporary liberal dogma. Oh, he concedes, in a talky and poorly written epilogue, that the war on terror is a serious matter, but the plot as a whole gives no support to that view.

I’d probably be willing to forgive all that, because it’s still a Tanenbaum book and therefore a lot of fun.

But putting peyote into Our Lucie’s mouth?

That, sir, I cannot forgive.

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