TOLL CALL by Stephen Greenleaf


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Greenleaf, whose cases for San Francisco shamus J.M. Tanner often become elaborate and far-fetched (Death Bed, etc.), tries something more small-scale and intimate this time--with rather dank results. Tanner's superb secretary Peggy Nettleton--45-ish, divorced, attractive--has been acting strangley lately; Tanner, determined to find out why, learns that Peggy has been receiving obscene (yet oddly seductive) phone calls from a mystery-man who seems to know all about her, who coaxes her into revealing secret sexual fantasies. Embarrassed, Peggy refuses Tanner's help in dealing with this situation--until things get violent: Peggy is assaulted by a masked intruder; the phone-caller's demands escalate. So eventually Tanner is bodyguarding Peggy, laying traps for the obscene caller, and tangling with Peggy's flaky daughter and odd neighbors. The ultimate psycho-revelations here--the phone-caller's hang-ups, the reasons for Peggy's sexual vulnerability--are only half-convincing. The hard-working exploration of the Peggy/Tanner relationship (a quasi-romance) is more earnest than involving. And, despite a few appearances by salty shamus Ruthie Spring (whose bawdy repartee is painfully overdone), this is Greenleaf at his most humorless, while Tanner's medium-boiled narration remains basically smart and wry, with purple Batches. (""A dark shadow draped her torso in a sinister implication, and a shadow draped my heart as well."") Overall, then: a thin, glum psychodrama, initially intriguing but lamely drawn-out.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1987
Publisher: Villard/Random House