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“Enemy Within” by Robert K. Tanenbaum Pocket Books; 416 pages; $24.95 Midway through “Enemy Within,” its protagonist describes his predicament as “like a bad made-for-TV movie.” One struggles for a more apt depiction of this whole book. Roughly once a year, Robert K. Tanenbaum churns out a story of derring-do, deception, and thuggery involving a hapless lawyer couple, Roger Karp and wife Marlene Ciampi, their saintly daughter Lucy, and a varied cast of cops, prosecutors, and felons. “Enemy Within,” this summer’s installment, offers promise at its start, but soon devolves into an unconvincing string of improbabilities, coincidences, and convolutions. A reckless car chase through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan ends with the fatal shooting of a fleeing crook by the cowboy detectives in pursuit. Karp, the chief assistant DA, suspects a fix when the cops are hastily cleared of manslaughter charges, but his boss, a DA facing re-election in an already volatile campaign, quashes the idea of a closer look. Karp, unswervingly committed to justice (and apparently underoccupied in his high-level job), sets out to get the real facts. Meanwhile, across town, spouse Marlene, a former prosecutor and private investigator, labors in her pricey private security firm to shield socialites and rock stars from cretinous stalkers. Lucy plays hooky from high school to troll the hidden underworld of the permanently homeless, there to dispense kindness and moon over a fellow church worker. These plot strains soon intersect, as plot strains will do. A killer is slashing street people and Karp surmises that the dirty cops are connected to the murderer. Because the DA’s office and the NYPD cannot be trusted to investigate either the detectives or the corrupt prosecutors who may be shielding them, Karp engages Marlene, an alcoholic former colleague, and other outsiders to help get to the bottom of things. If only it remained that simple. Appended to this basic narrative is a panoply of characters, subplots, and irrelevancies so unwieldy and unlikely that only the most gullible and persistent reader will not be exhausted. Tanenbaum may have a prodigious imagination, but it appears to have been unconstrained by editorial discrimination. The problem is not just that the story sprouts too many tentacles. The implausibility of several twists and turns infects the credibility of the whole tale. For example, a defense bar foe of Karp plants an impostor at a DA’s press conference because the pretender might overhear an off-color outburst that the salty chief homicide prosecutor might have in front of his staff; the impostor might be able to record the remarks on a hidden tape recorder; the eruption might be scandalous enough to get the prosecutor fired; the DA might then designate Karp as the man’s replacement; and Karp might square off with the defense lawyer in the courtroom and thereby settle an old score. Eureka! All works as planned. Equally unconvincing and quite unnecessary to the plot is Marlene’s extended descent into boozing and shopping when her firm’s successful IPO — remember those? — enriches her beyond her dreams. Authenticity has long since evaporated by the time the novel reaches its climax, when our hero Karp, a frequent sermonizer about rogue cops and DAs, plunges into the Manhattan sewer system in search of a killer, accompanied by his pistol-packing wife, his angelic 17-year-old daughter, a burly Irish priest, and a shadowy former Vietcong functionary. Yet “Enemy Within” is not entirely without merit. Tanenbaum’s skills include vivid scene-setting, fast pacing, and the occasional clever dialogue. But there is a uniformity to the characters’ voices — everyone’s smart-alecky and glib — that dissipates their individuality. The intermittent hand-wringing by Karp and others about corruption polluting “The System” also rings false, since they are the very people who take the law into their own hands. And the writing is at times stagy, as in: “Karp put the Solette affair, and his wife’s part in it, out of his mind for the rest of the day. He was good at this putting away, from long practice, for if he had gone into uxorious conniptions every time his darling had diced with death, he would not have had enough emotional resources left to run a hot dog stand.” This book is not a legal thriller per se. There are few courtroom scenes, no lacerating cross-examinations, and no tense jury deliberations. Indeed, no trial occurs. Its focus is the backroom work of police detectives with mixed motives, prosecutors driven by politics, lawyers and witnesses pursuing personal agendas, and affable relatives with an insalubrious facility for getting jammed up in violent confrontations. The book is as competent as much of the pulp that qualifies as beach reading, but will hardly distinguish itself even among that company. Once in a while, someone pumps new life into the legal potboiler genre and does so with writing that both lawyers and the general public find convincing. Scott Turow accomplished this with “Presumed Innocent”; opinions differ as to whether John Grisham achieved it with any of his books. Tanenbaum will not make such a mark as long as he delivers up commodities like “Enemy Within.” Patrick McGlone has practiced law in the Washington, D.C., metro area for more than 15 years, most recently as associate general counsel for US Office Products Co.

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