Friday’s Forgotten Books: Blood Type by Stephen Greenleaf

Stephen Greenleaf published 14 private investigator mysteries between 1979 and 2000. Each book focuses on a social issue: Southern Cross talked about the Civil Rights movement and Strawberry Sunday is engrossed with migrant farm labor. His protagonist John Marshall Tanner, who lived and mostly worked in San Francisco, is thoughtful and literate, with the usual inability to commit to a long-term relationship. The series was critically well regarded but never achieved significant financial success, and Greenleaf wrapped it up with book 14. Ed Lynskey wrote an excellent essay that summarized each of the 14 books and included an interview he’d conducted with Greenleaf by email. See it on Mystery,

In Blood Type (William & Morrow, 1992), #8 in the series, Tanner drops into his favorite watering hole, an unobtrusive bar that allows some of the regulars to congregate in a back room. His friend Tom Crandall is often there, reading, but this particular night Tom has something on his mind. The two generally do not share the details of their personal lives but Tom confides in Tanner that a well-known business man is in the process of stealing Tom’s wife. He wants Tanner’s advice on what his legal options are; Tanner is sorry to tell him that there really aren’t any. A week after this upsetting discussion Tanner finds Tom’s obituary in the newspaper.

The police aren’t sure how Tom died and want to write the death off as suicide so Tanner sets out to learn more. He interviews Tom’s widow, his mother, his work partner, and others, acquiring much more insight into Tom’s life, as well as more about the medical clinics and plasma banks in the low-rent areas of San Francisco where Tom found himself much of the time. This section of the book provides a worrying view of the way blood banks collected their product then. Subsequently, fortunately, practices have been upgraded.

Much of the story describes the steps of the investigation and Tanner’s thought processes, it is not fast-moving, no car chases or shootouts to speak of, although Tanner finds himself in danger more than once. Some readers will find it too leisurely in its pace. I consistently find his introspectiveness and social conscience appealing. I highly recommend these books to readers of private investigator series.

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