Robert Tanenbaum's newest offering in the Butch Karp / Marlene Ciampi series is Absolute Rage, a book that drags the Karps out of New York City and into the lovely and dangerous West Virginia mountains. It's not Tanenbaum's best in the series, but it is a great, rollicking read that will satisfy Karpophiles everywhere.
Marlene Ciampi, we learn, has once again given up the gun. She has taken instead to raising and training Neopolitan Mastiffs on a farm on Long Island. Her financial windfall from her previous employment at a high-profile security company affords her the luxury of doing pretty much what she darn well pleases. This pleasant bucolic life comes to an abrupt end when she meets her summer neighbors, the Heeneys, from West Virginia. Husband "Red" Heeney is a union organizer who seeks to unseat the current corrupt union president and return some of the power to West Virginia's poorest and least-empowered workers, the coal miners. Red, despite his noble efforts on the part of exploited workers, is a drinker, a braggart, and a brawler who seems to bring misery to his family. Nevertheless, when Red, his wife Rose, and their youngest child Lizzie are murdered in their West Virginia home, Marlene is moved to help the two remaining Heeney sons find the killers and bring them to justice.
Butch Karp finds himself in the middle of West Virginia violence by way of a friend and former professor who persuades Butch to take the job of outside prosecutor in the Heeney murders. The West Virginia governor would like to "clean up Dodge," but he knows that the town's corruption runs deeper than the coal in the mountains and will take an outside force to effect any real change. Karp takes the job to escape a frustrating political situation in the city. In typical fashion, Marlene's approach to rooting out and punishing the killers runs counter to Butch's ingrained belief in the rule of law.
Readers who find Lucy Karp, the Karp's young language prodigy, an engaging and interesting character will enjoy her acquisition of a boyfriend. Lucy's insistence that she is too ugly and too peculiar to find love melts away under the attentions of Dan Heeney, Red's youngest son. Lucy discovers that she is quite possibly every bit as alluring as her mother was and still is. As she steps further from childhood, Lucy learns not only about her own heart but that of her lifelong friend Tran. The Vietnamese gangster has long been Lucy's friend and teacher, but she learns, this time out, that despite his outward veneer of civility and humanity, he is a cold killer underneath. The loss of this fiction, combined with the near-loss of brother Zik, shake Lucy's faith in God to its foundation.
Lucy's younger brothers, twins Zik and Zak, are also interwoven in this story. Tanenbaum has chosen to flesh out their characters rather than leave them, as he once described them, as "indistinguishable larvae." Zik, the gentle Giancarlo, is an artist and a humorist, while Zak seems destined to join French Legion or perhaps the Green Berets, as his passion is plinking at rats with a small-caliber rifle and blowing stuff up.
Tanenbaum seems aware that readers have favorite characters they wish to revisit in each novel, so he has managed to find places for Guma and V.T. Newbury in this venture. Even Murrow, Karp's deadpan assistant and one of the most promising new characters to come along since Harry Bello, makes a small appearance. As a result, the book is contrived, but happily so. It is a visit to familiar territory, a bus trip home, if you will. The reader must suspend belief-nay, the reader must stick her belief to the bedpost and remind herself to retrieve it in the morning-but the overall effect of the book is a tonic for the heart as well as the intellect. Few writers of popular, gobble `em-down fiction manage to work in Vietnamese folk songs, St. Theresa of Avila, and giant slobbery dogs with as much success as Robert K. Tanenbaum.