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Published: Saturday, 11/27/2004

Tanenbaum turns out another great read

BY EILEEN FOLEY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

HOAX. By Robert K. Tanenbaum. Atria Books. 490 pages. $25.95.

It's hard to figure whose pleasure Hoax, Robert Tanenbaum's latest suspense novel, most enhances. Is it that of the reader, who is dunked into the eddies in which crime and punishment swirl in the Big Apple? Or is it the writer's?

Tanenbaum's concoctions seem believable even though they shock. His commitment to the notion of the interconnectedness of things and people shines again, and his timing is perfect.

Once more, readers are plunked into the professional and personal lives and adventures of New York prosecutor Roger "Butch" Karp, acting Manhattan district attorney, and his wife, Marlene Ciampi, whose opposing views of the law pace much of the action. They are a magnet for violence and evil in need of permanent eradication.

In Hoax, their enemy is again public corruption. It is manifested in violence in the rap music business, in government, and in the Catholic Church, whose officials for so long condoned the sexual abuse of children by clergy and covered their crimes in the name of forgiveness, making the concept of justice meaningless.

One of the best aspects of this novel is that Tanenbaum has briefly reprised significant events of his recent novels as prelude to the current one, the better to give a context to the Karp family, including 20-year-old Lucy, a language genius, and twins Isaac (Zak), who carries a switchblade, unbeknownst to his parents, and Giancarlo, blinded in an earlier escapade.

In Hoax, they are agents in creating a seamless package that links multiple murders, including those perpetrated by a serial child sexual abuser and a rap star to a political wannabe.

There is the archbishop, suitably named Fey, who wants so much to be immortalized in a new cathedral that he forgets about the children he is supposed to protect. His secretary helps the charade.

Toss in a couple of psychopaths, the murders of Indian children from the Taos Pueblo and children of color in New York, each found with the same distinctive rosary, and attempts on the lives of a Taos police officer and the Karp family itself, and you have a mlange that prods a reader on to the end, as all great thrillers do.

There are the usual family regulars: Guma, a reliable police officer who once babysat Lucy; Tran, a Vietnamese gangster who helped educate Lucy and whose love for the family knows no bounds; Ariadne Stupnagel, a journalist, Marlene's college roommate, raucous, sexually pushy, reliable; the mole people, who live under the streets that New Yorkers ply daily, including the smelly Booger; and David Grale, for years in pursuit of a clerical child abuser the Karps push onto his turf.

And there are the newcomers, chief among them John Jojola, a Taos Pueblo whose personal nightmares find themselves resolved as the novel closes.

This book is not all good-guy-bad-guy action, for Tanenbaum is adept at portraying the soul-searching of thinking adults. Marlene, for example, meets Jojola on a trip to Taos in pursuit of inner peace, Lucy along to keep her on track, as Karp, by no means a religious Jew, finds himself teaching bar mitzvah classes for his sons and other kids their age.

I think Tanenbaum is, and for nearly two decades has been, one of the hottest crime novelists going. He's on top of his plot. His characters are not only interesting, but to anyone who has ever reported on crime and punishment, they are as real as they are complex. From a tangle of discrete events he has, as usual, fashioned another compelling story that is hard to put down, and particularly hard to forget.

Eileen Foley is a retired Blade associate editor.



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