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Greenleaf, Stephen - Ellipsis (2000)



        Despite being nominated for an Edgar for Strawberry Sunday as the best novel of 1999, Stephen Greenleaf doesn't receive the recognition that's his due as one of the finest exemplars of the hardboiled detective story at work today—and one of the best ever. Robert B. Parker makes the bestseller lists, but he's not nearly the writer Greenleaf is. His Spenser is a pallid Marlowe-wannabe who lacks the depth, complexity, and literate articulation of Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner.

        In Ellipsis, the fourteenth book in the series, Tanner is approached by an attorney to bodyguard the spectacularly successful and popular romantic suspense novelist Chandelier Wells, who has been receiving ominous threats from person or persons unknown. It's not his kind of case and he's on the point of turning it down when he learns he was referred by Millicent Colbert, former client, friend, and unknowing mother of his daughter (see False Conception).

        In between accompanying the bitchy Chandelier and her ever-present retinue to TV appearances and to book-signings that attract huge crowds of devoted fans in and around San Francisco to promote the release of her latest blockbuster, Tanner digs into the writer's private life and into the lives of people with present and former connections to her to try to identify the menacer who nearly kills her and who succeeds in killing a couple of others. Along the way, he must contend with the angst-ridden approach of his fiftieth birthday, the problems of an elderly neighbor he likes, the safety of Millicent Colbert and their daughter, his feelings for assistant DA Jill Coppelia, and the aftermath of a year-old case (see Past Tense), the tragic consequences of which still haunt him. The case involved a corrupt group within the SFPD known as the Triad, and Jill is trying to put together a case against them to present to a grand jury. Tanner's amorous relationship with her complicates matters and is a source of tension between the two of them.

        Some of the primary mysteries are solved, but other questions linger to tease the reader. Not the least of these is whether Greenleaf plans to continue the series, especially considering the unexpected and potentially life-changing surprise Tanner gets at the book's end.

        Ellipsis is a novel that grabbed me from the get-go and which was nearly impossible to put down. Readers who enjoy compelling stories rich in characterization, drama, humor, and pungent observations, and told in intelligent, often lyrical prose, should find it irresistible.


—Barry Ergang






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