Review: Without Fear or Favor by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Without Fear or Favor by Robert K. Tanenbaum is the 29th Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi thriller, where Butch Karp and his wife Marlene Ciampi must stop a radical organization of armed militants bent on the cold-blooded murder of uniformed on-duty police officers (available August 15, 2017).

This is the 29th book in Robert K. Tanenbaum’s series featuring New York County DA “Butch” Karp, but it’s my first, and he pretty much throws you into the thick of things right off the bat. Readers will recognize the timeliness of the plot right away: New York is in the grip of racial tensions between police and citizens, and the shooting of a black teen by an Asian officer has citizens on the verge of rioting.

The city is waiting to hear if Butch will bring charges, and he announces at a public press conference that they haven’t made a decision yet. It goes terribly wrong. A gunman who gained a foothold as an unpaid intern to a has-been journalist uses his easy in to make good on a terrible plan. 

Karp looked at the media cameras. “Thank you. That is all.”

As the angry crowd pressed up to the cordon of police, Mufti changed his chant. “NO GUN, NO EXCUSE!”

“NO GUN, NO EXCUSE!” the crowd responded.

Looking through the viewfinder on the camera, Vansand wondered what NatX was referring to when he told him that something big would happen. So far all I’ve got is what everyone else has, he thought, miffed.

Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me, Mr. Vansand.” The newsman recognized the voice of Oliver Gray.

“Keep the camera on me,” Gray said, and moved past him toward the podium. He then shouted, “KARP!”

From off to his right in the media crowd, Vansand heard someone yell, “GUN! HE’S GOT A GUN!” Only then did her realize what he was seeing in the viewfinder. As Gray advanced toward the podium, he raised a handgun and pointed it at Karp. The journalist also realized in that split second that because he was farther toward the podium, the other television cameras had to turn to film Gray, which meant they couldn’t capture the gunman and Karp at the same time. But he had both in his viewfinder, almost as if he was looking over Gray’s shoulder.

It all happened so quickly—Gray’s shout, the realizations, the screams of the panicking members of the press—that Vansand didn’t have time to react, just film. Nor could Karp do anything but frown as the gun was leveled at him. Fulton was the only one to react, moving to get between the shooter and his target as he reached inside his suit coat. But he was too late.

There was the sound of a shot—so loud that Vansand jumped, but not so much that he missed filming the bullet slam in to the district attorney’s chest.

It’s always a bit of a shock to have your protagonist shot right out of the gate, so Tanenbaum takes us back a month to give us the scoop on what happened to get us to this point—and he starts with another shooting to do it. This time, it’s a black man (the aforementioned NatX, as it happens—I’ll get to him in a minute) shooting a white cop, point blank, for no reason at all other than he wants to and he can.

The cop, Tony Cippio, had been playing basketball with a group of teens when he noticed three men giving him the stink eye. Against the advice of one of the kids, he approaches them to see what’s wrong. That's when he is shot. Subsequently, the NYPD is in an uproar, and it does no good in tamping down already roiling tensions between the African American community and the cops, and vice versa.

Tanenbaum makes NatX a genuine psychopath of the classic order:

The moment he looked into that cop’s eyes and heard him beg for his life—“I have children”—felt like the moment before sexual release. Then pulling the trigger had consummated the ecstasy of killing another human being. And not just any man, a fucking cop. Not only that, but now he was a hero. He’d done what he loved to do anyway, only now everybody was going to look up to him.

He enjoyed making people suffer. Felt empowered by taking a life, which he’d done five times already. Two were members of a rival gang when he was just 13 years old. He’d ambushed them as they sat on the front porch of a neighborhood home. Anthony had known them since grade school, and they were surprised when he pulled the gun and shot them in their heads as they tried to get away. Knowing there’d be few consequences because of his age, he’d openly bragged about the killings until his arrest.

Then, less than a month after his release from eighteen months in juvenile detention, he murdered an old woman in her home. Woke her up in the middle of the night, then raped her as he smothered her with a pillow.

Seriously, this guy comes complete with a childhood full of animal abuse and enthusiastic fire starting. Bad guys don’t come much worse than this, especially since NatX hides behind the black nationalist movement to commit cold-blooded murder. The people that are genuinely concerned about racism and issues with police won’t have anything to do with him, so he finds those willing to follow him (mostly young kids beset by insecurity and a desperation to belong, along with a motley crew of fellow psychopaths) and sets out on his despicable crusade.

Ok, so far, our hero has been shot, racial tensions are boiling over in the city, and on a completely bonkers note (but in a good way), there’s a vigilante preacher that lives in the underground tunnels and emerges to kill evildoers. I’m not kidding. He gets a bit stirred up with our bad guys, making for some very entertaining scenes. Sprinkle in some very exciting court scenes, and you’ve got a pretty fun read. If I have one complaint, it’s that a few of the characters veer dangerously close to cliché, but the narrative chugs along like a runaway locomotive, making up for this minor misstep.

Tanenbaum is a pro. Even if you’ve not read any of his books before (like me), you’ll recognize his talent for grabbing readers firmly by the scruff of their necks and not letting the go until the end. Butch Karp is a character well worth rooting for. Newcomers shouldn’t be afraid to jump right in—Tanenbaum makes it easy to get caught up in the story without needing a ton of background.


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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.


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