STEPHEN GREENLEAF – False Conception. John Marchall Tanner #10. Penzler Books, hardcover, November 1994. Pocket, paperback, March 1997.

   Greenleaf has been one of the best known and regarded of the hardboiled PT writers over the last decade or so, and one of my personal favorites, albeit one whose last few books have disappointed me anywhere from a little to a lot. This is his first book for Penzler after a number of years with Morrow.

   Tanner is hired by a high-powered lawyer for whom he’s done occasional work to check out the background of a potential surrogate mother. She’s to be surrogate for the wife of a scion of a wealthy San Francisco family, and they have many natural concerns. The job itself seems relatively straightforward, but Tanner finds his own ideas surrogacy not as clear as he thought, and his own life throwing up a few parallel complications.

   The surrogacy contract is signed, and the woman impregnated, but then things go bad. Tanner begins to sift through the lives of all concerned, and — surprise! — it turns out that the past haunts the present, and everyone is wearing a mask.

   Though all but the frothiest of crime fiction deals with moral and philosophical issues, Greenleaf’s tales usually do so with less concession to conventions of action and violence. Whether this is good or bad depends on your tastes, but it’s something to be aware of.

   The appeal of the series has always been to me grounded both in Greenleaf’s excellent prose and the attractiveness of the aging Tanner as a believable, sympathetic human being, and is still. I think this is one of his best books of recent years. It breaks no new ground; he’s been compared frequently to Ross Macdonald, and I see the influence strongly here, though Tanner has always been less the untouched recorder than was Archer.

   The plot is complex. I’m not sure all the pieces fit perfectly together at the end, but it was an end I had no trouble accepting, and a book I enjoyed.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.