PW: At the beginning of Absolute Rage (reviewed on p. 31), Marlene talks to her dogs, and they talk back, and it's funny. By the end of the book, when Lucy converses with her hallucination of the Virgin of Avila, it's no longer funny. Are the Karp women cracking up?
RT: Depends what your starting point is. There is a touch of zealous commitment for both of them. From Marlene's point of view, there's that dichotomy in her personality, that Sicilian brand of justice as opposed to American democratic constitutional justice, which is procedural-oriented as opposed to result-oriented. If I as a prosecutor, for example, don't convict a rapist or a killer, that doesn't mean I go mete out justice on the street. Marlene's Sicilian brand of justice is just that, however, and in Absolute Rage, she feels that she has to mete out vengeance in her mind. And it takes her over the edge. Her daughter is a very committed Catholic. She must, in her own mind, attain the sense of equilibrium, that sense of justice, from the Church—that her soul will somehow be saved by doing good acts, like saving the souls of others.... So both of them show definite signs of extremism, and sometimes it overtakes their value system and their central core as a person. Sometimes the demons within control our emotional and intellectual sides.
PW: Your scenario in Absolute Rage of a big-city prosecutor being recruited to ferret out smalltown corruption makes for a toothsome plot. Is it actually plausible in law?
RT: Oh, absolutely. It's happened in many cases. I myself was asked to be a special prosecutor in the Hillside Strangler case. L.A. County has over 900 deputy DAs—why'd they ask me? The governor is the one who calls in special prosecutors. Some jurisdictions, it's the AG, where the DA may have a conflict or has demonstrated a lack of concern and/or a waiver of its own jurisdiction.
PW: You moved from practicing law to teaching it [ED: at author's alma mater, at BOALT School of Law at UC Berkeley, teaching Advanced Criminal Procedure]. Why hasn't Butch Karp done the same?
RT: There are a lot of things to get to in the books before we address these personal relationship issues. And they deal more with the criminal justice system, and our entire justice system and value system, than they do the relationships. I think that's an important issue to understand—that I care deeply about the sense of justice that is meted out in the courts, that's meted out on the street by cops, and if there are corrupt cops, the kind of zero-tolerance you need to deal with that effectively. So there's a lot more to be said from my point of view, and I hope there's some people wanting to continue to read it.
PW: Karp's being a Jew seems to resonate less within his own family and more among outsiders. Yet it is still a defining factor for his character. What is its role?
RT: I'm a six-foot-five Jew from Brooklyn. That's never gonna change, nor do I want it to ever change. Unfortunately, people have their own prejudices, which they're taught at young ages, that are mindless and destructive. To me, it's a very important aspect of my own personality that I walk around with, and I am not a ritualistic, practicing, religious person. But I'll be damned if I ever shy away from the notion of who I am, any more than Karp would under those circumstances.