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Tragic    by Robert K. Tanenbaum order for
by Robert K. Tanenbaum
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've always enjoyed the thrillers in this long-running series but was beginning to find the last few (with terrorism themes) same old, same old. Tragic is classic Tanenbaum with mystery, courtroom drama, and resonances with Shakespeare's Macbeth throughout. This one also focuses on District Attorney Butch Karp and his fiery wife Marlene Ciampi, their children largely absent from center stage.

Aptly the mystery opens on a Shakespeare in the Park offering of Macbeth, filled with quotes that set the scene nicely for violence. Then flashbacks show what led to the murder in question, after a young wannabe killer was tasked with the hit. Alexei Bebnev, with ties to the Russian mob, was hired to kill union leader Vince Carlotta. Though he was supposed to do it alone, he in turn hired Frankie DiMarzo as backup, and the latter brought in his reluctant pal Gnat Miller as driver. Bebnev chickened out on the first attempt, unnerved by the appearance of the target's wife and baby.

The hit was ordered by Charlie Vitelli, current 'president of the North American Brotherhood of Stevedores' (NABS). He's in league with his tough henchman, Joey Barros and weak-willed gay lawyer Jackie Corcione, the son of the union's founder and long-time president who died two years earlier. They rigged the recent election that made Vitelli president and have been embezzling union funds. Now Carlotta is contesting the election results and Vitelli knows that the embezzlement will be discovered if he loses power. So Carlotta must go.

The second attempt (in Vitelli's presence) succeeds. Also present are three street people, one of them the wife of a stevedore killed in a crane accident that should never have happened. These ladies appear repeatedly, murmuring in a manner reminiscent of Macbeth's witch trio. The police soon identify the three young men directly implicated in the killing, who are targets now themselves. Gnat's girlfriend hires Marlene to help him survive and do the right thing. And Butch Karp is determined to reel in the big fish who ordered the murder, not only to net his hirelings.

How he accomplishes this makes for a fine legal mystery, and the Macbeth backdrop will appeal to the bard's multitude of fans. Here, some followers eventually own up to their foul deeds and in his closing argument, Karp states 'that guilt is a powerful motivator that murders sleep and steals men's souls'. Tragic is a powerful read.

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