cover image Material Witness

Material Witness

Robert K. Tanenbaum. Dutton Books, $20 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93579-7

Ex-New York DA Tanenbaum's gritty thrillers take full advantage of his own experience in the judicial system. Here he brings back NYC assistant DAs Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi, last seen in No Lesser Plea , for a fifth go-round. Now married, they are expecting their first child. While Marlene is on pregnancy leave, Butch gets into a hassle with his superior and resigns from the DA's office. Unofficially, then, they become embroiled in a murder case in Queens, the shooting of a pro basketball star in a car whose glove compartment contains a large package of high-grade cocaine. The tangled case brings them into contact with Mafia hitmen and loan sharks, and includes revelations of point-shaving, arson-for-hire and a political corruption scheme that involves numerous high-ranking New York pols. In order to break the case, Karp ends up as the 12th man on a pro basketball team, a return to the injury-shortened athletic dreams of his college days, while Marlene trundles off to see a Jamaican druglord in Brooklyn. Tanenbaum knows his criminal procedure cold and is briskly efficient in propelling his complicated plot. Though the novel is generally laced with a nervy, street-smart cynicism, there are some absurdities: the idea of a 30-something lawyer on a pro hoops team is nothing less than preposterous, and it takes an equally unlikely coincidence to bring Marlene into the mortal danger that Tanenbaum concocts for her. These cavils aside, this is a consistently entertaining thriller. Major ad/promo. (June)