STEPHEN GREENLEAF. Book Case (1991).

12 Sep

John Marshall Tanner falls comfortably—perhaps too much so—within the tradition of the American private eye. Hardboiled yet guardedly sensitive, a man of culture who also knows his way around a mean street or two in his stomping ground of San Francisco, he tangles with rich and powerful foes whom he cannot really defeat and looks out for victims whom he cannot ultimately save. BookCase.jpgHe’s a hero, in short, but not too much of one. World-weary and even somewhat lazy, Tanner has a job to do and he does it, all the while gliding on a stream of sardonic observation. He goes farther in pursuing truth and justice than duty demands of him, but not to an unseemly degree. In this outing, he must find out who wrote a novel that was delivered anonymously to a tony local publishing firm. What seems like a simply matter, and hardly a dangerous one, turns into a dense puzzle that involves at least one imperfectly buried scandal, an accusation of sexual abuse and an intimation of incest, and a homeless ex-convict who appears to have violence on his mind. Heading each chapter is an excerpt from “Homage to Hamurabi,” the book within a book that yields many of the clues that Tanner must follow. Greenleaf’s use of this material is the high point of his novel and also its chief flaw. The excerpts delight and entice; they give this tough-guy tale an attractive literary gloss. But Greenleaf handles the final revelation of who wrote “Hamurabi,” and how Tanner arrives at that knowledge, and what that knowledge may mean, in a lamentably huddled way.


Posted by on September 12, 2013 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel, Puzzle


6 responses to “STEPHEN GREENLEAF. Book Case (1991).

  1. Barry Ergang

    November 1, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    I’ve long thought Greenleaf was a top-tier author who never got the kind of recognition or wide readership that he deserved, while many a lesser light received undue accolades.

  2. Kelly

    November 1, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Sounds like there’s a lot going on, but it all sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review.

  3. Steve Oerkfitz

    November 1, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Always loved Greenleaf. Never understood haw Robert Parker became such a success while better writers like Greenleaf, Arthur Lyons, Johnathan Valin and Micheal Lewin were ignored.

  4. Mike

    November 2, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    Thanks to you all for your comments. (Someone must have flagged this post, even though it’s weeks old, for Forgotten Books Friday—or something of that sort—and I’m grateful for that.) This review ends on a sour note that belies how much I enjoyed the work at hand, along with others by Greenleaf that I’ve read. I agree with Barry and Steve that Greenleaf has gotten an unfair shake from the reading and publishing world; his work certainly deserves not to be forgotten. And I heartily recommend this book about books to Kelly, or to anyone else.

  5. Juri Nummelin

    November 2, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    He’s easily better than Robert B. Parker.

  6. Larry

    November 19, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    Anyone know how to email Stephen Greenleaf? I’ve got about 10 of his 1st editions I’d love for him to autograph!


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