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Monday, May 12, 2014

Southern Cross: A John Marshall Tanner Novel by Stephen Greenleaf

I attended my 40th high school reunion a few years ago. It was a bit bizarre. I talked about it with my vet some weeks later who, in his inimitably deliberate way explained why he never went to his reunions. "I didn't like the people then, so why would I like them now."  Greenleaf describes it well himself:

“For one thing, it was summer, so the flora was on its most verdant behavior rather than curled in the scruffy somnolence it suffered during most of the academic term. Tempers had flared and moods had plummeted during those dull gray months of winter—loves were lost, friendships severed, studies neglected, often irretrievably. The tardy lift of spring never quite made up for it, not even the year the baseball team went 26 and 5 and Gil and I were named all-league.
       More troubling than the intemperate cycles of botany and meteorology was my sense—grounded in resentments I didn’t know' I had until I boarded the flight that morning—that the attentions lavished on the grounds and buildings, as well as on the pursuits that pulsed within them, contrasted markedly with the neglect of more essential needs. Lack of guidance, or even notable concern, on matters ranging from career choice to social deftness to symptoms of personal dysfunction had left many of my peers, including myself, in a fog that led us down wrong roads. On the day I graduated and went out into the world, I knew more about the Renaissance than I knew about myself.”

At the reunion, Tanner met up with his best friend from college, Seth, who asked him to come to South Carolina where he is an established lawyer and has a  problem. He's made lots of enemies by defending Civil Rights type and most recently a black girl who wants to enter the Palisades, a thinly disguised Citadel.  He’s received an audio tape threatening his life, but what really worries him is that the voice on the tape is that of his son.  With minimal digging, Tanner soon realizes there are connections to events of the early sixties where youth, sex, jealousy, and idealism all collided to affect events twenty years later.

There are many different kinds of enjoyable mysteries: some emphasize action, others ideas, and some language.  Greenleaf’s action is cerebral and displays it in marvelous use of language.  I’ve read about eleven of his fourteen books. I’ll be very sorry to finish them.



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