Let me begin by saying that I am not the target audience for this book.
While I’ve read my share of Tom Clancy and David Baldacci, plots that involve espionage, government cover-ups, and global terrorism aren’t really my thing. I had never before read a work by Robert K. Tanenbaum, so I was unaware of the Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi series – Infamy is the twenty-eighth book starring the characters – but I do enjoy a good courtroom thriller.
I know firsthand how difficult writing fiction can be and, moreover, how unlikely it is to become a bestselling author, but this was simply not a good book. To be honest, I had to prevent myself from throwing it across the room a few times.
Still, it is not without its strengths.
The pages fly by. This is a perfect book to read on the plane or the train or the beach. The pace is breakneck and the chapters are short and easily digestible, so it’s a quick read.
Also, Tanenbaum knows how to write a strong courtroom scene, so even if you know where the story is headed and aren’t even all that excited to get there, he makes it easy to keep the pages turning.
With that said, however, my issues with the book are numerous.
My biggest gripe is with the cardboard characters that populate the story. All of the protagonists – or at least those on the “good” side – are incredibly handsome or strikingly beautiful and all of them are extraordinary at something, either physically, mentally, or both. On the other hand, the antagonist is a basic caricature of an extremely wealthy man, one that is prone to outbursts in the courtroom while the other side remains calm. Of the few minorities that appear, most are portrayed poorly or even stereotypically, the most egregious being a Hispanic man that witnessed a crime and, in his statement to the press, sounds like a bad parody from twenty years ago.
The names are also ridiculous. The mild-mannered secretary’s last name is Milquetost; the wealthy businessman is Wellington Constantine; the National Security Advisor’s last name is Hamm and her life changes completely at a Broadway performance of Hamilton; one important character’s last name is Swindells. This is like when George Lucas named the bad guys Darth Sidious and Darth Tyranus in the Star Wars prequels.
Moreover, the dialogue is just plain bad. It is completely unrealistic and seems fit for a low budget horror film. It oscillates between being blatantly expository or as a conduit for Tanenbaum to unleash diatribes on any number of subjects. When the men speak to each other, it is as heroes and statesmen and when the women speak to one another, they sound like adolescent girls trying to act more mature. Real people don’t talk like this.
Finally, there’s the story. It strives to be a mystery thriller, but from the start it’s easy to see where everything is headed and to predict the outcome even if the reader isn’t privy to all of the details. Tanenbaum takes great pleasure in unraveling just how Butch Karp puts together such an airtight case by arranging it like a puzzle, but it doesn’t have the impact he envisioned and the ending is predictable and saccharine.
You don’t get to write twenty-eight books about characters if they’re unpopular and it’s clear that Robert K. Tanenbaum has legions of fans, but being my first exposure to his work, Infamy did nothing for me.
2 out of 5
I was given a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more.Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.