No Lesser Plea

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Mandeville Louis is different from the hundreds of other murderers the New York City District Attorney’s office handles every year: He is a voracious reader of business magazines whose fantasies revolve around a Fortune 500 listing rather than underworld power. He uses drug addicts as his pawns in dozens of murder-robberies, disposing of them with overdoses of undiluted heroin. His latest caper is a double murder at a local liquor store, unusual for him because it is totally unplanned and leaves a number of loose ends that lead to his arrest. Bringing his considerable intelligence to bear, Louis tries to plea-bargain his case until it is dropped, and almost succeeds.

Roger “Butch” Karp, a thirty-two-year-old assistant district attorney, sniffs out the truth behind Louis’ orchestrated insanity pleas and forces the murderer to face justice, hazarding his own life in the attempt.

NO LESSER PLEA has at its core a compelling story of criminal and prosecutor stalking each other through close to four years of legalistic chess. Author Robert K. Tanenbaum, however, himself a lawyer who once worked in the New York City District Attorney’s office (and who is the coauthor of BADGE OF THE ASSASSIN) cannot seem to decide whether he wants to focus on the conflict between Louis and Karp or to regale the reader with bawdy tales of backstage revelry at the district attorney’s office. More than half the novel is devoted to Karp’s friends and colleagues--a loud, raucous bunch--and the politics surrounding the changing of the guard when the well-respected incumbent dies in office and a new district attorney is appointed.

If Tanenbaum ever hopes to join the highest ranks of crime novelists--and his prose has sufficient wit and style to fuel such ambitions--he should understand that readers like the villains at center stage as often as the heroes. As it is, he wastes a captivating villain at the expense of tiresome and preachy passages about modern legal practice.