Infamy behind the scenes

Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum
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Infamy. By Robert K. Tanenbaum. New York: Gallery Books, 2016

What if…?

Robert K. Tanenbaum never lost a felony case as an Assistant New York County DA. This month he takes on his biggest case yet, even if it’s “only” fiction. What if, he asks, the five or so wealthiest people in the world manipulate world events for their own gain? (And not as a gang: individually, each for himself or herself?) What if they routinely start wars or stop them, whichever pays the most? Suppose, then, the most dedicated “special operators,” on all sides, think they’re serving “the common good” while actually enriching one or more of this élite group. Now suppose someone has had enough and decides to do something about it. Then you would have a scenario much like Tanenbaum’s latest novel, Infamy, due out next week in bookstores everywhere. That is, unless the real-life counterpart of the chief villain doesn’t recognize himself and seek to impound the work!

Building a case

Robert K. Tanenbaum, author of Infamy

Robert K. Tannenbaum. Photograph by Blake Little for Gallery Books. By permission of the imprint.

Infamy mainly follows the Manhattan DA, after an explosive case reaches his office. A crazy man shoots and kills a decorated US Army officer and a would-be Good Samaritan in Central Park. He then flees the scene, holes up in the Central Park Zoo, and takes hostages. Then he makes this bizarre demand: to talk directly to the Manhattan DA! Imagine his surprise when the DA arrives within seconds of his demand. He then admits to shooting people in the park, but claims someone set him up. He wants immunity, and pledges to name names. To begin with, he drops an operational code name: mirage.

Why, then, does he suddenly take his offer back as soon as a pricey lawyer sees him? And why does an old friend of the dead Army man drop that same name mirage to him? Could this have to do with a “black operation” in the Middle East that didn’t quite succeed? And an order to a unit nominally under the dead officer’s command, to seize the “take” from that operation?

Most of the action, as one can expect, plays out in the courtroom and in interrogation rooms and offices. Infamy is, after all, a legal thriller, and Tanenbaum is building a case. In fact, he lays out his novel almost as he would lay out a case to a jury. He knows he has a tough case to prove. But once he does prove it, readers can now explain many things happening in the world they cannot explain any other way.

Weaknesses

To be sure, Infamy suffers from some weaknesses. Tanenbaum writes almost as though he’s writing for the big screen, not the text screen. This extends to his choice of point-of-view: an omniscient point-of-view. He shifts this from character to character, from one chapter to the next. That lets him describe certain scenes that take place before the main story, in almost chronological order. But that approach has one catch. He must withhold information about some of his point-of-view characters to keep the mystery going. That especially holds for the villains in the piece. That is also cheating. Better to limit your points-of-view to one character—the Manhattan DA—and follow him alone as he develops and follows the clues. Let the witnesses describe those other scenes, in court or in the DA’s office. In that way Tanenbaum could lay out the clues in the order the DA discovers them.

This point-of-view shift leads to a second problem. As one would imagine in a case like this, the central character faces danger to himself and his family. But Tanenbaum treats this almost as an afterthought. Tanenbaum barely introduces his readers to the DA’s family. (With one thrilling exception!) Then when the danger strikes, Tanenbaum devotes only a few sentences to it as the DA ships his family off to an out-of-the-way place. That solves the danger problem so neatly it scarcely seems real. Now had he limited his points-of-view to one character only, he could develop that character more richly.

An outrageous premise

Infamy last of all propounds an outrageous premise. The chief villain in this piece manipulates people and governments, all in a day’s work. Third-party politicians, “alternative news” editors, and “militia” members have in real life suspected this for years. They likely have good reason, too. So where are they in this drama? They could even give valuable, even critical, aid. Suppose for example that shipping off his family to another State can’t protect that DA’s family enough. And if the villain is whom this reviewer thinks he is in real life, it positively would not be. Where, then, is the paramilitary resistance force to offer shelter and even a little basic training? A last battle between that force and the villain’s hired guns, playing out as the jury give their verdict, would have made superb theater.

Infamy in fiction and real life

For all that, Tanenbaum’s investigative and trial instinct do not fail him. He’s right! The wealthiest people in civilization do manipulate people and governments for their own gain. Power does corrupt. Many events in the Great War Against Terror make zero sense except in the context of just such manipulation. Furthermore, Tanenbaum leaves no doubt, for anyone following the news even casually, who his chief villain really is. And like the prosecutor he once was, Tanenbaum builds his argument to a conclusion one can readily accept. Not only that, but the conclusion should satisfy most people, at least emotionally.

Infamy even reveals a few compromises the hero must make. He discovers that someone, who did some especially nasty “black ops,” laid the foundation for his entire case. He knows he should prosecute that person for what that person did. Some of the things have no statute of limitations. Yet he must let that person go. And it hurts. As it would hurt anyone in real life making such a choice.

In short, Infamy tells an outrageous, but plausible story. One should read it now, not “while it remains fiction,” but because it is not complete fiction. And one should also read it while it remains available to the public!

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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