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Counterplay    by Robert K. Tanenbaum order for
by Robert K. Tanenbaum
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've been hooked on Robert K. Tanenbaum's larger than life series for years. Counterplay continues from Fury to pit the family (lawman Butch Karp, his lawless wife Marlene Ciampi, saintly linguistic genius Lucy, and her twin younger brothers Giancarlo and Zak) against supervillain Andrew Kane, jailed and awaiting trial. Aiding the good guys is a growing collection of unusual allies on both sides of the law - a Catholic priest and his young defender, Lucy's cowboy sharpshooter boyfriend Ned Blanchet, Taos Indian shaman John Jojola, mad mystic David Grale, and Vietnamese gangster Tran Do Vinh.

The demonic Kane, who has allied himself with al Qaeda, escapes custody, his helpers slaughtering a bus full of schoolchildren and crippling a friend of Karp's in the process. Aiding Kane is Palestinian assassin Samira, a born killer who yearns for martyrdom. Kane, his appearance altered by plastic surgery, has a plan that he's worked out like a master chess game, involving a series of murders. As each stage unfolds, Butch receives a valuable chess piece hinting at the imminent victim. Who's the traitor in Kane's ranks dispatching these warnings? And what does he plan for his grand finale? Nothing good for Karp and his family, that's certain!

As always in a Tanenbaum thriller, there's a court case to follow in addition to the gory action. This time, Butch assists his old friend Ray Guma (aged by a bout with cancer) with a cold case, the disappearance of the beautiful Teresa Stavros. Teresa inhabits Guma's dreams and he's convinced - and sets out to prove - that her husband murdered her. And while coping with her increasingly frail father's reaction to his wife's death and her own fears that he facilitated it, 'violence magnet' Marlene keeps in contact with Butch's Russian mobster great-uncle and cousin, leading to a family dinner and key information on Kane's location. As the plot thickens, it turns out to have tendrils leading to Russia and U.S. powerbrokers, each with their own tangled motivations and goals.

The twins only get brief appearances this time, and Lucy's role is also unfortunately minor (though pivotal in her recognition of decent young Andy amongst Kane's vicious multiple personalities). Of course, readers do eventually learn - along with the Karp/Ciampi family - the details of Kane's horrific plan, and of course it is thwarted but at a cost that might be very high indeed. Aside from its thrills and chills, I especially appreciate this series for its social commentary, its character development, and a growing mysticism that distinguishes it from the usual thriller fare. And as always, I can't wait for more.

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