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Tom Chaney: Ghost Writers in the Sky

Of Writers and their Books, Ghost Writers in the Sky is a review of Absolute Rage with comments on collaborations. This review first appeared 18 November 2007
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tom Chaney: Around the Track

By Tom Chaney

Ghost Writers in the Sky

I have been a fan of the mystery novels supposedly by Robert K. Tanenbaum for the past several years. I like his two main characters Butch Karp and his wife Marlene Ciampi for their unconventional approach to life in general and crime in particular.

Both are attorneys.

Butch is the maverick employee of the New York District Attorney's office. I say "maverick" because were he to get a report card from his teacher it would read, "Does not play well with others." Ex-basketball player Karp does not tolerate sloppy police work and, even less so, sloppy prosecutorial work.

Marlene once ran a detective agency specializing in cases of abused women. When her partner wanted to merge with a more conventional firm, Marlene opted out. In the novel I just finished she is operating a kennel for the training of attack dogs at the Karp summer place on Long Island.

The novel is Absolute Rage [Simon and Shuster, 2002]. Marlene befriends her beachside neighbors Rose Wickham-Heeny a northeastern aristocrat and her husband Ralph "Red" Heeny a mine union official from West Virginia. The Karp-Ciampi family with their three children become friends of the Heeneys with their three.

The Heeneys return to West Virginia. Soon thereafter Rose, Red and their daughter Lizzie are murdered in the midst of union troubles. The governor of West Virginia asks Karp to be a special prosecutor to clean up a corrupt town. His boss in New York agrees, always happy to have him as far from the Big Apple as possible.

Fast paced adventure, witty language, intelligent complex characters -- just the sort of reading experience that makes one want to jot the author a note saying, "Thanks for another couple of nights of reading pleasure!"

Now I've never written such a note but impulses so to do often lead to my searching for information about the author on the internet.

I did that for Tanenbaum. Much to my surprise I discovered that he did not write any of the more than a dozen Karp books.

I don't fault him for having a ghost writer. That is an arrangement among the author, the ghost and the publisher. But it would be nice to let the reader in on the secret. Dick Francis gets help from his son. Clive Cussler has help from Paul Kemprecos and others. Tom Clancy has a stable of ghostly collaborators. Okay, but those writers are up front about it.

The case of Tanenbaum is a bit different. Of course, he signs his books around the country. We are told that he was once a hot shot D.A. never losing a case. But evidently he can't write worth a flip.

So, he sends his first Karp effort to his first cousin Michael Gruber, himself a writer. From then on, Tanenbaum evidently provided the cases and Gruber fleshed them out in matters of plot and character. From the discussions on line it is a bit hard to tell just who did what. It seems that there was a fifty-fifty split of proceeds (no concern of the reader, I think).

What irritates me is fact that the extent of the relationship was hidden until just a few years ago from those of us who find ourselves admiring the wrong man. Tanenbaum does thank Gruber in a vague acknowledgment in each novel.

We are now told of a breech between the cousins. A couple of Karp novels have been ghost written by someone else. The reviews have not been so good. I may try one just to see.

I have read some of the novels by Clive Cussler and various acknowledged associates. They hold up pretty well. I once read a Larry McMurtry collaboration with someone. It seemed that they wrote alternate chapters that didn't quite go together. I have not brought myself to try a Tom Clancy collaboration.

I don't really know why I feel so betrayed by Tanenbaum. After all I was brought up on the book with the greatest number of collaborators -- 66 I believe. And even Moses did a pretty good job of ghosting old J, E, D, and P -- working those sources up into the best selling "Genesis."

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-11-18 01:55:55
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