STEPHEN GREENLEAF – State’s Evidence. Dial Press, hardcover, 1982. Ballantine, paperback, 1983. Bantam Crimeline, paperback, 1991.

   A few [posts] back, as you may recall, I had some misgivingsabout Death Bed, Stephen Greenleaf’s tale of private eye John Marshall Tanner that immediately preceded this one.

   You can forget all that. If you’re a fan of PI fiction, whatever you do, don’t let this one pass you by! Toned down, but thankfully never quite eliminated, is some of the overbearing narrative that has marked Greenleaf’s two earlier books. The dialogue now carries a greater share of the story, and the plot-line is far less reliant on the flowery but not always appropriate series of metaphors that Greenleaf seemed to put so much stake in before.

   It all begins when Tanner is hired by a deputy district attorney in the town of El Gordo to find a missing witness, a woman who claims to have seen a fatal hit-and-run accident.

   But do you remember ever watching the TV series The Outsider? El Gordo is one of those typically Californian towns that private eyes keep stumbling across, bright and sunny on the surface, but simply riddled with hostility, crime, and corruption just underneath. It doesn’t take Tanner long to start digging, nor for the foul matter to start making itself known.

   Naturally, not all is what it seems. Some of the missing woman’s friends believe that she’s been kidnapped, murdered, or worse. Others feel she has merely fled her husband, a quietly arrogant tyrant with a fetish for things Oriental.

   Surprisingly, everyone who has known the woman reveals to Tanner a completely different side to her personality. Not surprisingly, little by little, Tanner is forced to realize that D. A. Tolson has not told him all he needs to know about the case. Even the federal government, it seems, is vitally interested in its outcome.

   Rampant coincidence seems to abound, but in each instance there is a substantive reason behind each of the bombshells Tanner soon begins to uncover. And bombshells they are. An added plus, at least as far as I was concerned, was the touch of courtroom theatrics a la Perry Mason that highlights a central portion of the cases he’s in. Tanner is also an ex-lawyer, and it’s about time we saw that fact become a more essential part of one of his cases.

   It may not happen, but Greenleaf should begin to start getting the recognition he deserves with this book. It’s certainly fine enough to suggest that he’s beginning to nudge his way out from behind the shadows of Chandler and Macdonald — his predecessors down these same dark alleys of Californian hypocrisy and despair.

Rating:   A.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (slightly revised).