Tanenbaum, Robert K.
Tanenbaum, Robert K.
Born in Brooklyn, NY; son of a lawyer and teacher; married Patti Tyre; children: three. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1965, law degree, 1968.
Home—Beverly Hills, CA.
Writer, novelist, attorney, and educator. New York District Attorney's Office, New York, NY, assistant district attorney, 1968-73, chief of homicide division, 1973-76; Congressional Committee on Investigations, Washington, DC, deputy chief counsel, 1976-78; private law practice in Beverly Hills, CA, 1978-81; California State Attorney General's Office, special counsel, 1981; Beverly Hills, CA, member of city council, 1986-88, mayor, 1988-96. Deputy chief counsel for the Congressional committee investigating the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; special prosecution consultant in the Hillside Strangler case, 1981; guest lecturer, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, 1999.
No Lesser Plea, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.
Depraved Indifference, New American Library (New York, NY), 1989.
Immoral Certainty, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Reversible Error, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
Material Witness, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
Justice Denied, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Corruption of Blood, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
Falsely Accused, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Irresistible Impulse, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Act of Revenge, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Reckless Endangerment, Signet (New York, NY), 1999.
True Justice, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Enemy Within, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Absolute Rage, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Resolved, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Hoax, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Fury, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Counterplay, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Philip Rosenberg) Badge of the Assassin, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
(With Peter S. Greenberg) The Piano Teacher: The True Story of a Psychotic Killer, New American Library (New York, NY), 1988.
Badge of the Assassin was adapted as a television movie.
A writer of courtroom dramas whose work has gone from mass-market paperback to hardcover bestseller, Robert K. Tanenbaum draws on his own experience as a lawyer and New York assistant district attorney to create tales of moral justice. "Of the lawyers who turned novelist in the 1980s and 1990s," wrote Jon L. Breen in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, "Robert K. Tanenbaum is among the most professionally accomplished as well as the most fictionally capable." Tanenbaum's novels have sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
Tanenbaum's books feature New York City district attorney Butch Karp who is, explained Lisa See in Publishers Weekly, "a fictionalized version of [Tanenbaum]…. Like Tanenbaum, Karp is a former college basketball player whose career was sidetracked by a serious knee injury. Working in the New York District Attorney's Office, he's surrounded by attorneys, cops, and killers who talk and act as they do in real life." Besides Karp himself, lawyer Marlene Ciampi plays an important role in the series, first as Karp's friend, then lover, and finally his wife. The relationship between the two—both career-driven—is often stormy. When Marlene gives birth to the couple's first child, it is when killers are storming the door of her apartment. In another adventure, the child is almost killed. Breen noted that the marriage between Karp and Marlene is "one of the most exasperatingly rocky, sporadically communicative marriages in mystery fiction annals." The early books are set in the 1970s, but move forward in time as the series progresses. As time goes on, Butch and Marlene's daughter Lucy grows up and the couple advance in their respective careers. According to J.D. Reed in People, Tanenbaum's novels about Butch and Marlene form a "richly plotted, tough and funny crime series."
Tanenbaum's ability to capture the milieu of the New York City justice system is widely praised. Breen commented: "Throughout the series, Karp's personal and professional relationships and the depiction of the politics of the New York legal system, bolstered by insider details, engage the reader's attention." A Publishers Weekly critic explained that, though "Tanenbaum moved to Beverly Hills long ago, his New York is still as fresh as today's police blotter." Reviewing the novel Corruption of Blood for Entertainment Weekly, Richard North Patterson found that, even if the novel is not set in New York City, "as a portrait of prosecutors at work, it pulses with authenticity."
Immoral Certainty "begins in high gear and remains there," commented Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly. A spree of gruesome deaths involves Karp and Ciampi in a complicated whirlwind of investigations. A member of the mob is shot in a restaurant in Little Italy; a woman and her small son are viciously killed in their East Village apartment; and a seven-year-old girl is found stuffed in a garbage bag, horribly mutilated. Heightening the tension for these two lawyers is the growing complexity of their relationship with each other. When Marlene seems on the brink of solving one of the cases, she disappears, setting the worried Karp off on a determined search to find her. Steinberg concluded: "The elements of the plot converge to form a shocking yet credible conclusion."
Falsely Accused finds Butch, Marlene, and seven-year-old daughter Lucy living in New York. Karp has spent a year in a lucrative position at a downtown law firm, while Marlene has spent the same year being a full-time mom to Lucy. Eager to get back to the work she knows and loves, Marlene starts a private investigation firm with friend and cop Harry Bello. Karp takes on the case of the city's chief medical examiner, who is suing to get his job back after being fired by the major and Karp's nemesis, district attorney Sanford Bloom. Marlene becomes involved in a case helping a young mother stop a stalker, and branches out to help two terrified children in a woman's shelter. In a separate investigation, Marlene's college friend, journalist Ariadne Stupenagel, looks into the deaths of three gypsy cabbies, all of whom committed suicide while in police custody. Amazingly, what Ariadne uncovers seems to have definite connections to Butch and Marlene's current cases. "The links among these three very dissimilar narrative threads strains credulity, but Tanenbaum's talent is large, and so are his characters," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Enemy Within opens with a high-speed chase and shootout between two New York City police officers and a wanted snitch. The chase ends with the felon dead. The cop who shot him claims self-defense—the man tried to ram the police car with his SUV. In the highly charged politics of an election year, most everyone is willing to accept that explanation. However, Butch Karp is not so easily convinced. Butch also sees the political elements of two other cases, that of a young black man accused of killing a Jewish diamond seller, and that of a serial killer who preys on the homeless. Butch and Marlene's concern is heightened by the fact that daughter Lucy, who has developed into a genius-level linguist, is doing volunteer work among the homeless, and they are afraid she will encounter the killer. For Marlene's part, she is basking in the financial windfall she has received from technology stocks, but when a female rock star asks for her help, she cannot refuse. Booklist reviewer Mary Carroll called Enemy Within "vintage Tanenbaum, sure to appeal to fans and likely to increase their number." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that "fans of Tanenbaum's characters, sharp dialogue, and grasp of the intricacies of New York's legal system will not be disappointed."
In the fourteenth Karp and Ciampi novel, Absolute Rage, Butch, now Chief Assistant D.A. of New York County, is reeling from thwarted efforts to bring some corrupt politicians to justice. Meanwhile, Marlene's guard dog business is a rousing success. When Marlene spends a summer at the family's farm on Long Island, she strikes up a friendship with Rose Heeney and her family. Rose is married to Red Heeney, a West Virginia union organizer, a job with its own brand of dangers. Marlene offers nineteen-year-old Daniel Heeney a summer job, and the relationship between the families remains warm and friendly. Marlene is later shocked to learn that Daniel's parents and ten-year-old sister Lizzie have been murdered in their home in McCullensburg, WV. When the police arrest Moses Welch, a local mentally impaired man who could not possibly have been involved in the killings, Daniel asks Marlene for her help, which she is happy to give. Coinciding with this request, Karp is hired as a special prosecutor to investigate, and curtail, a rash of violence in West Virginia. In a more personal note, Lucy and Dan find themselves developing a case of young love for each other. "Talk about irresistible—no fan worth his or her salt will miss this earthquake of a thriller," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic. Tanenbaum "draws a compelling portrait of the unique and complex relationships between the Karps and their closest friends," commented Jo Ann Vicarel in the Library Journal. In reviewing the novel on BookReporter.com, Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum observed that "Tanenbaum's greatest talent lies in his ability to weave several themes into the fabric of a suspenseful and interesting story while at the same time remaining faithful to the personalities of his characters."
In Hoax, the Karp and Ciampi family has suffered physically and mentally from the strains of their legal career. Marlene has been injured by a letter bomb, eleven-year-old son Giancarlo has been blinded by an assailant, and Lucy has been kidnapped twice. Still, Butch and Marlene cannot see completely abandoning the work they love. As the story opens, scrupulously honest Butch is considering a run for District Attorney, even though he knows that will put him in contact with dirty politics. Meanwhile, he becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of ML Rex, a prominent West Coast rapper, gunned down in his limousine outside a club where he had just appeared. The prime suspect in the murder is Alejandro Garcia, an ex-convict, aspiring rapper, and ML Rex's rival. As Butch considers his options, Marlene and Lucy attend an art therapy school in Taos, NM, seeking to heal from the traumas of their personal and professional lives. Soon, Marlene is involved in a local case involving a serial killer who preys on children. "In vigorous and fullbodied prose, Tanenbaum gives dimension to a large cast of characters and holds your interest—even when some aspects of his plot veer into implausibility," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly contributor assessed the book as "by turns boring, insightful, pedestrian, silly, maudlin, exhausting and exciting."
Fury opens as a decade-old rape case has been reopened. The so-called Coney Island Four were caught and sent to prison for the rape they committed under the Coney Island pier. Now, however, controversial and sleazy lawyer Hugh Lewis, who does not shy from making accusations of racism, has managed to free the four men. Lewis has also filed a 250 dollar million lawsuit against the city on their behalf. District Attorney Butch Karp is suspicious of the entire deal, and suspects corruption and illegal cooperation between the lawyer and a number of Brooklyn politicians. At the mayor's request, he steps up to defend the city against the lawsuit and Lewis's machinations. Marlene, meanwhile, has taken on the case of visiting Russian professor Alexis Michalik, accused of drugging and raping New York University graduate student Sarah Ryder. The story takes a potentially deadly twist when an Iraqi terrorist kidnaps one of Butch and Marlene's children as part of a scheme to blow up Times Square during the New Year's Eve celebrations. Unable to withstand this newest assault on her family, Marlene, with the help of some deadly friends, takes the fight directly to the terrorists. A Publishers Weekly critic felt that the book was hindered by too many subplots. "It's too bad Tanenbaum has overstuffed his latest thriller: somewhere beneath the layers of fat there's a svelte, snappy story," the reviewer stated. However, a Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that "Tanenbaum writes such a mean page that the faithful will keep turning them anyway."
At their best, the novels featuring Butch and Marlene mix authenticity with a high degree of suspense, witty dialogue, and strong narrative pace. Speaking of Act of Revenge, the critic for Publishers Weekly found that "Tanenbaum has crafted a believably twisted gem of a gangster tale with visceral action and smooth comic relief." Reviewing the same novel, the Kirkus Reviews writer noted: "As usual, Tanenbaum pulls off a hundred effective scenes in a dozen different tones." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly summed up: "For those who prefer their legal thrillers with plenty of spice and a high IQ, Tanenbaum remains an essential addiction."
In 2003, a revelation worthy of one of Tanenbaum's own mystery novels was made about his writing career. For sixteen years, throughout the majority of the Karp/Ciampi series, the novels had been written by Michael Gruber, an uncredited ghostwriter. Gruber, a former marine biologist who is Tanenbaum's first cousin, got involved with Tanenbaum when the attorney wrote a novel in 1984 and sent it to Gruber for critique, noted Lynn Andriani in Publishers Weekly. One of Tanenbaum's high-profile legal cases had become famous, and publisher Franklin Watts was interested in acquiring a legal thriller from Tanenbaum. After reading the hundred pages Tanenbaum sent him, Gruber realized that the book could not be saved. Instead, he proposed a business arrangement to Tanenbaum: for half the advance, Gruber would write an entirely new novel, and they would split the royalties. Tanenbaum's name would be the only one on the book, and the lawyer would provide case reports and background material for Gruber to use to construct the novels. In this way, the highly successful Karp/Ciampi series was launched. Over the years, Gruber began to feel frustrated with his hidden career as a novelist. He realized he could not admit his role as ghostwriter of the Tanenbaum books, but he also could not enjoy all the benefits of being a bestselling author. Friction between Gruber and Tanenbaum increased, Andriani reported, until Gruber concluded he wanted to pursue writing his own books under his own name. Gruber has recently split with Tanenbaum, with Resolved being the last book he wrote under their long-term arrangement. He is now forging a career under his own name with novels such as Tropic of Night and Valley of Bones. Despite the breakup of the pair's lengthy collaborative arrangement, Tanenbaum has continued to publish novels, including Hoax, Fury, and Counterplay.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, winter, 1993, review of Reversible Error, p. 117; spring, 1995, review of Justice Denied, p. 186; summer, 1996, review of Material Witness, p. 338; winter, 1997, review of Falsely Accused, p. 71.
Booklist, August, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Justice Denied, p. 2029; November 1, 1995, review of Corruption of Blood, p. 458; September 1, 1996, review of Falsely Accused, p. 69; October 15, 1997, review of Irresistible Impulse, p. 392; April 15, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Reckless Endangerment, p. 1395; May 15, 1999, Budd Arthur, review of Act of Revenge, p. 1674; June 1, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Enemy Within, p. 1853; June 1, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Resolved, p. 1751; May 1, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hoax, p. 1524; July, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Fury, p. 1878; August 1, 2006, David Pitt, review of Counterplay, p. 9.
Book World, July 12, 1998, review of Reckless Endangerment, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 1997, Richard North Patterson, review of Corruption of Blood, p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1993, review of Material Witness, p. 406; June 15, 1994, review of Justice Denied, p. 802; September 1, 1995, review of Corruption of Blood, p. 1217; July 15, 1996, review of Falsely Accused, p. 1001; August 1, 1997, review of Irresistible Impulse, p. 1149; May 1, 1999, review of Act of Revenge, p. 662; June 15, 2000, review of True Justice, pp. 828-829; July 1, 2002, review of Absolute Rage, p. 915; July 1, 2003, review of Resolved, p. 882; July 15, 2004, review of Hoax, p. 658; June 1, 2005, review of Fury, p. 608.
Kliatt, April 1, 1993, review of Material Witness, p. 16; September, 1993, review of Reversible Error, p. 14.
Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Justice Denied, p. 130; August, 2000, Craig L. Shufelt, review of True Justice, p. 162; October 1, 2001, Theresa Connors, audiobook review of True Justice, p. 167; August, 2002, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of Absolute Rage, p. 147; May 15, 2004, Theresa Connors, audiobook review of Resolved, p. 130.
New York Times Book Review, November 26, 1989, Newgate Callendar, "Spies & Thrillers," review of Depraved Indifference; January 28, 1996, review of Corruption of Blood, p. 21.
People Weekly, December 8, 1997, William Plummer, review of Irresistible Impulse, p. 45; June 22, 1998, J.D. Reed, review of Reckless Endangerment, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Immoral Certainty, p. 56; January 20, 1992, review of Reversible Error; April 19, 1993, review of Material Witness, p. 48; June 20, 1994, p. 103; July 11, 1994, review of Justice Denied, p. 62; September 12, 1994, p. 71; July 10, 1995, p. 55; September 25, 1995, p. 42; August 5, 1996, review of Falsely Accused, p. 430; September 29, 1997, review of Irresistible Impulse, p. 65; April 13, 1998, review of Reckless Endangerment, p. 50; April 26, 1999, review of Act of Revenge, p. 57; June 12, 2000, review of True Justice, p. 50; July 2, 2001, review of Enemy Within, p. 50; May 27, 2002, review of Absolute Rage, p. 31, and Adam Dunn, "PW Talks with Robert K. Tanenbaum,"p. 32; June 2, 2003, review of Resolved, p. 30; August 2, 2004, review of Hoax, p. 54; December 13, 2004, Lynn Andriani, "Hook, Line, and Sinker," profile of Michael Gruber; July 11, 2005, review of Fury, p. 60; June 26, 2006, review of Counterplay, p. 30.
Rapport, Volume 17, number 5, 1993, review of Material Witness, p. 30.
School Library Journal, January, 2001, Carol DeAngelo, review of True Justice, p. 161.
Trial, September, 2001, Rebecca Porter, review of Enemy Within, p. 68.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 20, 1993, review of Material Witness, p. 7; July 24, 1994, p. 2; August 21, 1994, review of Justice Denied, p. 7; November 19, 1995, review of Corruption of Blood, p. 6.
BookReporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (December 10, 2007), Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, review of Absolute Rage.
Brainstorms,http://www.brainstorms.com/ (March 19, 2003), "Michael Gruber at the Mysterious Galaxy," profile of Michael Gruber.
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind Web log,http://www.sarahweinman.com/ (January 10, 2007), "Ghostwriting, Part 1: The Ballad of Michael Gruber," profile of Michael Gruber.
Jackie K. Cooper Home Page,http://www.jackiekcooper.com/ (January 10, 2007), review of Counterplay.
MysteryGuide.com, http://www.mysteryguide.com/ (January 10, 2007), review of No Lesser Plea.