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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book case : a John Marshall Tanner mystery by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing

The first sentence of this book, describes me to a tee: “I’m not certain whether the affliction originates in genetic disinclination or environmentally induced aversion, but I’ve always been more a recluse than a celebrant.”  Exactly.

Marsh is hired by Bryce to help save Periwinkle Press. Bryce received a manuscript, one that he thinks is truly magnificent. He wants Marsh to read it and then find out who wrote it.  What makes it interesting and tricky is that the novel, about a man falsely convicted of sexual harassment and abuse, is unfinished and in the missing section promises to reveal who the false accuser was and what revenge he intends to extract.  Of course, the best way to track down the author is to assume the book is non-fiction, but that could raise issues of libel.  But then, if the book is a novel, libel could also be a problem for the publisher since all it takes is one person to come in and proclaim that s/he thought the protagonist was someone in particular for libel law to become an issue. Apparently if you disguise a person’s identity by having them do several nefarious things, and someone still recognizes the individual, then you could be guilty of defamation since the portrayal wasn’t accurate enough!

The trail leads Marsh into a corrupt world of influence, private schools, and hidden agendas. Again, the positive comparison to Ross MacDonald is warranted.  I remain astonished that Greenleaf never attained similar stature.  Greenleaf does exhibit a strong sense of moral outrage at the disparities of life in San Francisco during the late eighties (the book was published in 1991.) <i>“...the gap in both assets and attitudes between the rich and poor has become cavernous, the America that allows businessmen to coin money in the name of junk bonds and stock options yet requires the poor, illiterate woman to fill out a six-page form to qualify for food to feed her children, the America whose poor contribute a higher portion of their income to charity than the rich,  the America whose best and brightest are no longer rewarded for creating things of value but for selling off our resources to foreign companies, the America whose politicians want to force everyone to pledge allegiance to the flag while hundreds of thousands of men whose allegiance to that flag included bravery and bloodshed must find shelter in doorways and subway tunnels and abandoned sewer pipes.”</i>

The beginning of each chapter has a paragraph or two from this "great" novel, Homage to Hammurabi," as well as longer passages within the novel, a tricky conceit since it's supposed to be the next great American novel and, for my money, doesn't appear to be so.

Greenleaf’s books are filled with righteous anger;  this one especially so.  Great read.  On to the next one.

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