Friday, August 03, 2007

Stephen Greenleaf

As I mentioned earlier, I read two novels by Stephen Greenleaf recently. Greenleaf was never big in Finland (he may have never been big in the US, either) and the publisher really didn't promote the books enough and he has dropped pretty much out of sight and I don't think anyone here really remembers him. Except for some aficionados of the private eye genre, people like me.
I remember really liking Greenleaf's books even when I was a teenager. Reading the books again now, I realized that in my own writing during that time I tried to write like Greenleaf. (You can only try to realize just how close I got. What do you expect from a fifteen-year-old?) Greenleaf is very close to Ross Macdonald, another favourite writer of mine, but while Macdonald is more psychological and Freudian, Greenleaf is more openly sociological, even though there are the same psychological themes as with Macdonald. Both even overuse the similes every now and then.
Greenleaf writes with great verve and insight about small towns and their petty political games and the losers who try to hang on to their dignity. His hero, John Marshall Tanner, is a very sympathetic man, even though he tries very hard not to show it.
There are no annoying private eye cliches here, and if done like Greenleaf I really couldn't think of anything that should make the genre obsolete, as some people have been saying (even though there is lots of evidence that the genre is coming to a renaissance, or is actually living it now). Even the opening, with a client coming to a detective's office, is still very intriguing, to me, at least, and it should work for years to come. (I'm referring to a post that Steve Lewis over at his great Mystery*File blog posted a week back.)
The books I read were Greenleaf's first, The Grave Error, and State's Evidence. Between the two, I can't really make any valuation, but maybe The Grave Error was better of the two. Ed Lynskey here, in his very good article and interview with Greenleaf, claims it's one of the best detective novels ever. I might agree with Ed.
In Finnish, there were eight translations (which is quite a good number, but given Greenleaf's total anonymity in Finland now this is quite striking), one of which being his mainstream novel, The Ditto List (Erolista in Finnish).


Unknown said...

Greenleaf is one of those writers who never got his due. I really like the Tanner novels.

Anonymous said...

Eight Finnish translations is a great deal more than what we got over here - only Impact and the non-series The Ditto List made it into Swedish. The Ed Lynskey article refers to these two as Greenleaf's "pair of courtroom dramas", maybe there is a connection there.

Juri said...

Sounds pretty weird - you'd think there'd be a lot more people interested in Greenleaf in Sweden than in Finland. The publisher that did Greenleafs in Finland also published (and still does, occasionally) T. Jefferson Parker and Lee Child, so there's someone there who has some interest in hardboiled crime writing.