Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

While Robert B. Parker and his progeny--Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, etc.--were busy destroying the private eye genre--mostly by giving their detectives side-kicks who would do their dirty work for them--there were still a few guys toiling away without adopting such gimmickry. The very best of the lot were Loren Estleman, Bill Pronzini, Jonathan Valin, Peter Corriss and a few others. Stephen Greenleaf was a part of this holdout group, with his John Marshall Tanner series openly modeled on Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer. Two things kept me from enjoying his books as much as those of his peers, the reflexively anti-Reagan politics and the way Tanner's moroseness about being alone undercut his lone wolf status. On the other hand, Mr. Greenleaf made an effort to tie Tanner's cases to topical issues and then explored them in interesting ways, even if we didn't always agree.

That topicality really pays off in this entry in the series as it seems prescient now. Tanner's old secretary and eventual flame Peggy Nettleton had disappeared after a case where she was the victim. When she gets back in touch it is not to rekindle romance but to hire the detective to look for her soon to be step-daughter. The search pulls Tanner into the seedy underbelly of a Seattle that was already hi-tech but plagued with heroin and other familiar problems. And the girl has been roped into a scheme that involves an early form of deep-fake porn. We could do without the mooning over Peggy, but there's one scene where Tanner is tortured that is so reminiscent of Farewell, My Lovely that it has to be a homage to Raymond Chandler. A nice classic touch.

Sadly, Mr. Greenleaf, like Jonathan Valin, gave up on the series when publishers lost interest in our hard-boiled heroes. American literature is the worse for the loss.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Private Eyes
Stephen Greenleaf Links:

    -ENTRY: Greenleaf, Stephen (Howell) (
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Stephen Greenleaf (Mysterious Press)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Stephen Greenleaf (Simon & Schuster)
    -John Marshall Tanner: Created by Stephen Greenleaf (Thrilling Detective)
    -Stephen Greenleaf (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Stephen Greenleaf (Enotes)
Q. You’ve said that no further PI Marsh Tanner books will be written and you’ve essentially retired from writing. Why did you make the decision to take “retirement”? Do you have any regrets? Would you care to share any opinions on the state of today’s publishing industry, good or bad?

A. My retirement was more forced than elected. When no publisher was willing to bring Strawberry Sunday out in softcover, even though it had been nominated for an Edgar, I knew Tanner’s day was done. Luckily I was able to write Ellipsis as the last chapter in the saga, and allow its subtext to suggest the reason my series had come to an end. I don’t see any need (or much demand) for the Tanner series to continue.

I do plan to write more fiction, though it’s not likely to be anything of interest to major houses. Over the past two years I’ve turned a couple of (unproduced) screenplays of mine into novels and may publish them with iUniverse or some similar outlet.

In the beginning, I was published by small imprints and edited by their editors-in-chief: Juris Jurjevics at Dial and Marc Jaffe at Villard. Both men liked the books and did their best to sell them within the limits of their corporate circumstances. After that I had no contact with the head of the house that published me, and Tanner became just another book. He didn’t survive the experience. (By the way, I never left a publisher before the person who brought me there had already departed, voluntarily or otherwise.)

I don’t blame my own “ellipsis” on the publishing industry. Every author thinks more could have been done to promote him and his work, but the fact is, Tanner was around long enough for anyone interested in the genre to have taken a run at him. I hear the phrase “I read one of your books once” far too often for comfort (it’s much more damning than “I’ve never heard of you”), indicating that Tanner struck a chord with comparatively few readers.

    -REVIEW ESSAY: Stephen Greenleaf (Ronald Walker, Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Flesh Wounds by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Beyond Blame (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Blood Type by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Southern Cross by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Past Tense by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Book Case by Stephen Greenleaf (Richard L. Pangburn, track of the Cat)
    -REVIEW: of Book Case (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Book Case (Only Detect)
    -REVIEW: of Beyond Blame by Stephen Greenleaf (Charles L. Crow, Western American Literature)
    -REVIEW: of Strawberry Sunday by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Ellipsis by Stephen Greenleaf (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Ellipsis (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of False Conception by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Impact by Stephen Greenleaf (Publishers Weekly)

Book-related and General Links: