STEPHEN GREENLEAF – Southern Cross. Wm Morrow & Co, hardcover, November 1993. Paperback reprint: Bantam, February 1995. John Marshall Tanner #9


   After being disappointed by Valin and Lyons this year, and finding Jerry Healy’s mediocre for him, Greenleaf was my last PI hope for 1993. *Sigh.*

   Tanner returns to the Midwest for a reunion of his college graduating class, looking for answers to questions he’s not even sure how to ask. He meets old friends there, and an old lover, and one of the friends asks for his help.

   A civil rights worker in the 60s, the friend is being threatened by a group of racists. He doesn’t know who they are or why they’ve targeted him, but he does take them seriously, and wants Tanner to find out these things and make them go away.

   Still looking for his own answers, Tanner accepts, and [heading for Charleston SC] wanders into a magnolia-scented world that he doesn’t know. As you might expect, everybody has secrets, and as usual few of them are happy ones.

   Greenleaf is different from most PI writers in that he deals with what people do to one another, not only on the small, personal scale, but in terms of larger societal issues as well. He is a social and political liberal, and this attitude infuses his books.


   Here, of course, he has much to say about bigotry and race, and what it’s done to us all. As always, Tanner is as much a man of thought and meditation as of action; another defining characteristic of Greenleaf’s books is that they tend to be much more philosophical than those of other PI writers.

   Cross is a detective story and a mystery of sorts, but there is little violence. Greenleaf’s writing is as powerful as ever, but the story itself didn’t hold together for me. Tanner makes too many connections with too little evidence, and the motivations of the eventually unmasked villain were simply not believable.

   Too many words were spent on Tanner’s angst and Greenleaf’s thoughts on racism, and not enough establishing the connections between the characters that might have rationalized the story.

   I didn’t dislike the book — I like Greenleaf’s writing too well — but it disappointed me considerably.

— Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #10, November 1993.

Previously reviewed on this blog:

       Beyond Blame (by Steve Lewis)

   For a long overview of Greenleaf’s books by Ed Lynskey, and an interview he and I did with the author several years ago, may I recommend that you go here on the main Mystery*File website. You’ll find a complete bibliography there as well.