cover image Past Tense: A John Marshall Tanner Novel

Past Tense: A John Marshall Tanner Novel

Stephen Greenleaf. Scribner Book Company, $22 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83249-4

The powerful narrative drive of Greenleaf's 12th John Marshall Tanner adventure (following Flesh Wounds, 1996) suffers from patches of turgid prose and the shapelessness of the hunted killer's character. Charley Sleet, a respected San Francisco cop and Tanner's best buddy, guns down a wealthy father, defendant in a recovered-memory child-abuse case, in open court and in full view of lawyers, judge and witnesses. Sleet, a good guy by most accounts, isn't talking, and Marsh is left with the task of finding an explanation. Sleet, who had suddenly resigned from the force, was a squeaky-clean cop with no shortage of dirty-cop enemies. He'd been helping out in Tenderloin shelters for abused kids while mourning a long-dead child and a more recently departed wife. Greenleaf applies too many weighty contradictions to his shooter, including the issue of his health. One moment, the gun in Sleet's hand wobbles; in another, he beats down a posse of bad cops who are after his blood. One moment he's a grieving widower; the next he's got himself a new girl. For a supposed best pal, Marsh knows precious little about Sleet, and while this leads to a compelling climax, that uncertainty returns to unpleasant effect in the story's denouement. (Apr.)