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STRAWBERRY SUNDAY
By Stephen Greenleaf

Scribner, Hardcover, 287 pahes, (February, 1999) $23.00

Reviewed by Tom Kreitzberg (11/99)

There's only one thing John Marshall Tanner likes about being in the hospital following a near-fatal shooting: Rita Lombardi, a fellow patient who is full of manic energy and the joy of living. Club-footed from birth, Rita has just had her legs reconstructed and is walking without crutches for the first time. Marsh promises to call her after he's recovered to go dancing. When he calls the number she gave him, though, he finds that she has been brutally murdered.

Marsh decides to go to the rural town where Rita lived, to help her mother, her fiance, and himself discover the reason a life as promising and exuberant as hers was cut short. What he finds, amid the strawberry fields surrounding the central Californian town of Haciendas, is a feudal society of land-owning barons and land-working serfs. The local baron is Gus Gelbride, who regards everyone and everything within his domain as his to control -- including the investigation into Rita's murder.

This is, of course, a classic set-up in P.I. fiction, in which the hero comes to a crooked town to see justice done and ends up taking on the local boss. But while Stephen Greenleaf uses it to construct a readable and well-paced novel, he fails to bring to STRAWBERRY SUNDAY enough that is new or vital to raise the novel to an exceptional level. The social criticism of the migrant workers' plight is a blunt weapon in his hands, where it might have been more skillfully worked into the story without bogging it down.

Thirteen novels into the series, Greenleaf has a firmly established and fully developed character in John Marshall Tanner, and if he breaks no new ground here, he does prove that there's life yet in the traditional private eye tale.

Other titles by this author include: FALSE CONCEPTION, FLESH WOUNDS, PAST TENSE, BEYOND BLAME, TOLL CALL, BLOOD TYPE, BOOK CASE, DEATH BED, DITTO LIST, FATAL OBSESSION, GRAVE ERROR, IMPACT, SOUTHERN CROSS, and STATE'S EVIDENCE.


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