- - Thursday, July 21, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OUTFOXED: AN ANDY CARPENTER MYSTERY

By David Rosenfelt

Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages

“Your dog helped him escape” is a tempting kickoff for a thriller, especially when a fox terrier called Boomer is then accused of involvement in seven stabbings. It is less credible when Boomer turns out to be one of the animals under the protection of a lawyer called Andy Carpenter who cares more about canines than people.

David Rosenfelt walks the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to animals. His Tara Foundation in reality has rescued more than 4,000 dogs from shelters and of course he owns a golden retriever called Tara on whom he relies for advice and wisdom. In between he writes books about gangsters, murders and complicated court trials in which he obviously enjoys arguing with irascible judges.

As for Andy, to further complicate his life and that of his wife, he has also adopted an eight-year-old orphan called Ricky who has become a passionate sports fan and also runs into some trouble because of his foster father’s detecting work and his interest in horse racing.

It is a nice touch that when Ricky’s parents are called in for a conference with the boy’s teacher, their pleasure over her compliments on the child’s mathematical talent is mixed with some uneasiness over her suspicion that he may be running a bookkeeping operation in his class, utilizing information about “point spreads” drawn from his father. Meantime, Carpenter keeps a paternal eye on Boomer, the rescued fox terrier whom he had allowed to find a home with Brian, a prisoner working out a five-year term for fraud. It comes as a shock when the man on whose testimony Brian was arrested is murdered, hence the seven stab wounds and the police complaints that Boomer had helped him get away. Boomer, as the reader will suspect, is innocent and also is wearing a GPS clip in his collar so he and Brian are an easy target for the law to track down and Carpenter is enraged at the damage done to the dog’s reputation. As he puts it, “When we rescue dogs we enter into a covenant of sorts with them, that we promise to be responsible for their welfare on a permanent basis. The adopting owners know if they ever cannot care for their new dog, we are there for them.”

The plot becomes more complicated and more violent with the appearance of Dominic Petrone, a dangerous gangster who hates Carpenter. Fortunately, the lawyer has protective friends like the irresistible Marcus, a private investigator of whom he says, “I would feel comfortable confronting a Russian tank division with Marcus alongside me.” His descriptions of what Marcus does to those who antagonize him is hilarious for everyone except the victim. Describing the scene in which Marcus deals with a man sent by Petrone to dispose of Carpenter, the author notes, “Marcus is casually sitting on his chest, with his legs to the side as if he is on a bench waiting for a bus.” Carpenter doesn’t see a welt or bruise on the face of the unconscious man — “It’s possible that Marcus just scared him into oblivion.”

Nevertheless, Carpenter acknowledges that Petrone is “the scariest anachronism on the planet.” In an era when organized crime families were in decline nationally, Petrone had successfully fought against that tide. He was a man who looked the part of a successful CEO, “but at the core, his business model is based on fear, intimidation and murder.” When dealing with Petrone, Carpenter reflects, the primary goal is remaining alive. In this case, Petrone has decided that Carpenter must die.

The intrepid dog-loving lawyer plunges into a risky case, and the book sags into chapters of legal language when most readers would rather concentrate on the capacity of Marcus to deal with the world around him in his own way, or see Boomer restored to the reformed criminal who wants to adopt him. It is comforting that Carpenter is still taking advice during his daily walks with the noble golden retriever, Tara, while Marcus takes care of unnecessary unpleasantness.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.


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