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John Marshall Tanner Books In Order

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Publication Order of John Marshall Tanner Books

“John Marshall Tanner” series by Stephen Greenleaf is a set of detective mystery novels about the life and times of a private detective in San Francisco. Greenleaf just like his lead character is a former lawyer and transplanted Midwesterner that went to the University of California Berkeley Law School. Stephen also worked in the military on Monterey Peninsula’s Ford for a year. While he never loved his time in the military, he loved living on the peninsula that he was back in Monterey in 1970 to practice law. But after six years practicing the law in Monterey and San Francisco, the urge to try his hand at writing became too strong. He wrote his debut novel “Grave Error” of the John Marshall Tanner series in 1979 and has never looked back since. Over the years, he has tackled many controversial themes that include surrogate motherhood, radical politics, racism, legal insanity, corporate chicanery and libel in fiction that have won him many awards. However, he is best known for the “John Marshall Tanner” mystery series that by the year 2000 had fourteen titles. The series is written in the style of the Lew Archer tales by Ross Macdonald. The novels often pack moral and emotional wallop as Greenleaf has said that he was attempting to write angst-ridden stories set in the Bay Area just like Macdonald’s works. However, he adds considerable depth to his stories and writes stories that have one of the boldest and bravest private investigators in the genre, which makes for entertaining reading.

The lead in the “John Marshall Tanner” series is a private investigator from San Francisco that one practiced as a lawyer. He is still a lawyer but he has not practiced for several years after he was disillusioned by the judicial system that persecuted his less resilient clients unto death. He was born in the Midwest but went to college in San Francisco before graduating from law school. Once he quit the law, Harry Springer an older private detective had taken him under his wing and taught him all that he knew about the craft. It was not long before Marshall set up on his own, though he was anything but conventional as he has his office above an antique store. He gets a secretary named Nettleton that he seems to have an interest in though he does not make a move preferring to admire her from afar. But the middle-aged malaise strikes both of them and their relationship soon suffers. Over the course of the series, it deteriorates and completely breaks down after an obscene murder and phone call that forces them to terminate their relationship. Ever since then, he gets occasional help but for the most part, prefers to work alone.

John Marshall is a lot like AA Milne’s “Eeyore” with his depressed and gloomy demeanor. He is a loner just a few spots above the definition of a recluse, rather than the typical Jodan or Mason from the nineties and eighties. However, one of the very few people he still keeps in touch with is a cop named Charlie Sleet. The middle-aged and notoriously single detective is aware of the deficiencies in his personality but seems to work even harder to become a curmudgeon leftist. The fact that he works in a career that traffics in misery has not helped matters. Nonetheless, he still has a few things he likes to indulge in when he is not working. Since he is not a man for the outdoors, he spends much of his downtime at home, listening to music, reading or watching TV, particularly if there is a big game on. He will occasionally go to the bar though he loves to call himself a drinking man rather than a drunk.

“Grave Error” the debut novel of the “John Marshall Tanner” series by Stephen Greenleaf introduces John Marshall Tanner, who has been hired to investigate Roland Nelson. His wife thinks there is something fishy going on and Marsh is only too eager to please. Like all private eyes, there is nothing better than having a beautiful woman come to the office asking for help only he can provide. But regardless of the nicely turned calves and curves, he is there to do a job. In a few days, he has figured out that while the husband of his client is deceitful, what the wife suspected is not true. There are several strands out of the deception which makes for a knotted and twisted story. But Marsh believes that it would be better if he did not continue with the case as he does not believe the truth would be what his client would want to get. But then Harry Spring his best friend is discovered dead in a ditch and investigations show that he had been clubbed to death and Marsh is back in the thick of it. A little digging and he learns that his friend had been working for the daughter of Roland Nelson. He now realizes that the case will take longer to resolve since some of the strands that could have been useful have been cut or in other words stabbed, shot or bludgeoned.

“Death Bed” by Stephen Greenleaf tells the story of Maximillian Kottle that is determined to see Karl his estranged son before his death. He has cancer and what was once months becomes days. Karl is wanted by the police but when he hires Tanner to try to find him, he leaves out this key piece of information. Karl has ties to some terrorist group that has been blowing up buildings and now has gone underground. The terrorists are more like Maximilian Kottle as they are radical and unhappy people with genuine hate for capitalism. Marsh finds some leads as he tries to find Karl but some of them lead to sordid locations where desperate people have been left to their own devices. In such places, people are doing desperate things just to survive. He moves through the streets and makes a few stops in houses of the famous and rich and in dens of inequity. Both places are just as treacherous for the investigator determined to be true to his ethics and morals.

Stephen Greenleaf’s “State’s Evidence” has Tanner asked to help find a missing witness by Deputy District Attorney of El Gordo. The witness is Mrs. Blair, who was witness to a hit and run on a pedestrian by a local thug. The DA wants the man arrested and had put the witness under police protection but she had gone missing. James her husband also wants her found though he has his reasons. Grinder the local Chief of Detectives wants PI Tanner to report to him and not to Tolson, while a neighbor suggests that James the husband to the missing woman may have wanted to do her harm. And then there is a neighbor’s husband that had been kicked out of his home after he found religion and started acting creepy and stalky. The feds too do not want Tanner involved for some unknown reasons. There is an undercurrent of complicated familial relationships and corruption which makes for a compelling read.

Book Series In Order » Characters » John Marshall Tanner

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