Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 2, 2007

Richard Greener’s “The Knowland Retribution: the Locator”

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 10:55 pm

Richard Greener

When I took a writer’s workshop class at NYU in 1980, the instructor told the students that their first novel should come out of their own experience. That would certainly be true of Richard Greener’s “The Knowland Retribution: The Locator,” even though Greener has never been an assassin or a private detective. But using his knowledge of the customs and values of the Atlanta upper middle-class, drawn from his life and career there as president of WAOK, the city’s largest Black-oriented radio station (he is white), he has written a gripping crime story that pits one of these middle-class men against the nameless and faceless merchants of industry responsible for the deaths of his family and hundreds of other innocent people.

Leonard Martin is a successful real estate lawyer who decides to take revenge against the top management of a Wall Street investment firm and the principals of a meat-packing company after his wife and children eat beef that is tainted by e-coli bacteria. As a personality, he is just as bland and as set in his ways as the men who go rafting on the fictional Cahulawassee River in Northern Georgia in James Dickey’s “Deliverance.” Instead of a confrontation with hillbilly rapists, Martin is forced to take action against men who profit from diseased meat.

Even after he has received a substantial class action settlement from the crooked businessmen, Leonard Martin is not satisfied. He feels–rightfully so–that the payoff would not inhibit them from killing again, just as penalties to GE for dumping PCB’s into the Hudson were seen merely as part of the cost of doing business.

Martin decides to go into deep hiding and reinvent himself as a kind of Rambo. Imagine the weak and pudgy character that Ned Beatty played in “Deliverance” transformed into the muscular and lethal Bert Reynolds character and you will get a sense of the character transformation. Not only does he shed excess pounds, he sheds all human contact except with his son-in-law who becomes an accomplice. Using his knowledge of the real estate business, Martin secures hideaways around the country which making tracing him impossible. In these retreats, he practices long-range marksmanship and works on hit lists.

Shortly after the dirty meat pushers begin to get shot dead, the survivors hire a “locator”. In the detective business, these are specialists who are good at finding runaway husbands or children. But occasionally they get called in to find somebody as elusive as Leonard Martin. The locator they hire is a Vietnam veteran named Walter Sherman who lives on a Caribbean island. Sherman takes their money but doesn’t show that much enthusiasm for the job. That, of course, does not interfere with his carrying out of the assignment. He is the consummate professional.

Sherman eventually hooks up both professionally and romantically with Isobel Gitlin, a NY Times obit writer who after seeing a pattern in the killings becomes the paper’s most celebrated investigative journalist. More than anybody else, she is able to tie together the murders of the dirty meat purveyors and Leonard Martin.

Ironically, “The Knowland Retribution: The Locator” is thrilling because the characters and their settings are so mundane. Leonard Martin has a tendency to set up meetings at Holiday Inns, just as a real estate lawyer would. In the typical escapist crime thriller, the author feels a need to place his characters in glamorous or exotic settings, such as the Riviera or Thailand. With the exception of Walter Sherman’s home base in the Caribbean, Greener has created a fictional world that is typical “red state”, one that consists of Rotary Club boosters, Saturday night dinners at Red Lobster and NASCAR races. That is why when one of its own becomes an assassin determined to crush an evil capitalist corporation it becomes so compelling.

“The Knowland Retribution: The Locator” joins a celebrated gallery of ‘genre’ novels that demonstrate sympathies for the left. Including spy novels, we are reminded of Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, John Le Carre and the latest addition to this tradition, Alan Furst. All of these authors dispense with the patriotic nonsense found in Ian Fleming or Tom Clancy and show how the “enemy” is often more human than the power elite in one’s homeland. We also must include the Easy Rawlins detective novels of Walter Moseley, who fights for the dignity and civil rights of the African-American while nailing the bad guys. Even Subcommandante Zero of the Zapatistas has gotten into the act, co-authoring a detective novel with the renowned Mexican master of the genre, Pablo Ignacio Taibo II.

It is not a coincidence that Subcommandante Zero and Richard Greener are grappling fictionally with an identical problem: the impact of rapacious capitalism, either in rural Mexico or wealthy suburban Atlanta. Quite rightly, William Greider describes Greener’s novel in his back cover blurb as follows:

Corporate greed kills, but the ‘retribution’ in this tale is heart-warmingly delicious and fiendishly clever. The corporate suits get their comeuppance from a most unlikely bunch of characters, led by the Locator, a savvy freelance sleuth who should emerge as a popular and long-lived mystery hero. A terrific read.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I have known Richard Greener since 1961, when he was a senior at Bard College and I was a freshman. That year I arrived at school all wet behind the ears with a belief in libertarian/conservative politics. As the perennial contrarian, I simply had chosen to put a minus where my high school classmates had put a plus. In my first semester, Richard and his friends, who lived in the same dormitory, disabused me of my conservative beliefs.

That year, Richard and the same friends had launched something called the Welcome the Bomb Committee that had staked out the position that a spurned nuclear bomb would be a dangerous bomb, so we choreographed a welcome ceremony for the bomb on the Bard campus. That year we also showed up at the Young Americans for Freedom convention in New York where the irony of our message was instantly recognized for the subversive message that it was.

After graduating Bard, I lost touch with Richard and most of his gang. We were brought together by the Nicaraguan revolution, of all things. After making contact with Richard’s best friend Jeffrey Marlin–co-director of the Welcome the Bomb Committee–I soon was reconnected with Richard as well. The two of them were staunch supporters of a project I had become involved with to send volunteers to work with the Sandinistas. Additionally, Richard had been responsible for some groundbreaking coverage of the revolution on his radio station, all the more important for the fact that it was reaching African-Americans.

After WAOK was sold to another broadcasting group, Richard retired and began to try his hand at fiction. Unlike many aspiring writers, he did it mostly as a pastime and not as a way to become rich and famous. He never even bothered to approach a publishing house and the novel only saw the light of day after his son-in-law took it upon himself to shop it around.

It has not been easy for Richard to sustain his writing career, even though it is his main passion in life, outside of his wife and family. Congenital heart problems began to take more and more energy away from him and even threatened his life. His doctors advised him that he needed to have a heart transplant as soon as possible. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on June 5, 2005:

Richard Greener’s imagination comes alive in the middle of the night. He dreams up stories with intrigue and subversive themes.

He frequently wakes up from a not-so-sound sleep with chest pain caused by his ailing heart. Breathing becomes labored as he lies in bed. Unable to toss and turn, Greener gets up, leaving his half-sleeping wife, Maria, and jostles with characters and plotlines.

The Roswell resident is waiting for a heart transplant.

His illness and his nightly routine have resulted in a novel due in bookstores in March called “The Knowland Retribution.”

Greener, 63, completed that book and another tentatively titled “The Lacey Confession.” He is working on a third.

“I only started writing when I had chest pain,” said Greener, a retired radio executive.

Greener inherited coronary artery disease from his father, he said. He’s had three heart attacks since 1980. Over the past 25 years, Greener has had quadruple bypass surgery, experimental laser surgery and a pacemaker implanted.

“I was only comfortable when I was sitting straight up. I thought I may as well do something to help pass the time,” Greener said. He was placed on the national transplant list in 2003. His status was upgraded to priority in December.

Greener has had an active life. He has twice run the Peachtree Road Race and loves golf, tennis and travel.

But his heart condition means he must stick close to home.

Even if he’s physically up to it, Greener can’t stray too far. When a new heart becomes available, he must be able to get to the hospital at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes he needs oxygen to help him breathe.

The wait is frustrating, he said. “It’s like being under house arrest.” The idea for the first book came to him one night two years ago. Greener had started writing a letter to a friend, mostly to pass the time. He quickly realized he had more than a note about a recent vacation.

In his story, hundreds of people die, including the family of a Southern lawyer, in a massive outbreak caused by E. coli bacteria. Grieving, the lawyer exacts revenge on those responsible. The intricate plot takes several twists and turns as an obituary writer at The New York Times uncovers the corporate conspiracy behind the poisoning. “I lost myself in research,” Greener said.

With the Internet at his fingertips, Greener writes at a desk surrounded by three walls of family photos and framed newspaper stories from his radio days.

A native New Yorker and one-time vice president, general manager and partner at WAOK, Greener retired from the radio business after his second heart attack in 1988. He and Maria Greener have been married for 38 years.

Greener’s wife had no idea he could brew up a mystery thriller so easily. “He’s taking all of his energy and channeling it into this one source of creativity,” said Maria, 60, a real estate agent.

The new author never intended for his work to be published, but he let his brother-in-law send the manuscript to a few reputable agents. Nine months later, New Age publisher Llewellyn in Minnesota bought not one, but two books from Greener. The novels will be published under a new book line called “Midnight Ink.”

The characters seem like real people, Greener said. His hero continues in his next two novels. The character tries to solve the Kennedy assassination in “The Lacey Confession” and searches for the missing Nixon tape material — made infamous during the Watergate scandal — in “18 1/2.”

“It’s exciting to see when he finishes a chapter. He looks forward to every day,” Maria Greener said.

Writing books shifts his focus.

“It gives meaning to my mind. These [characters] are part of my life now,” Greener said. “I get so involved and I’m no longer aware of any physical discomfort.”

The good news is that Richard finally got his heart transplant and has returned to doing what he loves and what will be his legacy, along with his life-long service to progressive politics and the Black community through WAOK. He has already published his second novel “The Lacey Confession: The Locator” and is working on his third. Look for Richard’s novels on amazon.com or your favorite bookstores. They are superbly written and offer potent social commentary.


  1. I’m sorry to hear that Richard had all that trouble, and glad he survived to continue to write. I reviewed “Knowland” for Gumshoe, A Literary Investigation, a mystery review e-zine, enjoyed it, and said so. I’m looking forward to “Lacey.” If you’re in touch with him, please give him my best wishes.

    Carter Jefferson

    Comment by Carter Jefferson — April 3, 2007 @ 12:37 am

  2. That was a fun read.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — April 3, 2007 @ 7:24 am

  3. I’d like to get your take, if you have time, on why the spy/detective novel has been such a fertile field for writers with left-wing sympathies. I hadn’t heard of Greener’s book, but I will check it out. I very much enjoy reading the newer ‘left’ American writers in this genre, though, for me, none of them meet the level of Greene, Le Carre or the couple that were members of a Scandinavian CP (I can’t recall their names). Mosley started out with a bang and I respect the varied paths he trying to pursue. But he’s inconsistent — he sometimes lapses into cliche and his story-telling chops pale in comparison to Chandler, for example. And while his depictions of the pressures faced by African American men are often poignantly on the money, the sweep of what he has to say does not exactly pick up where Ellison and company left off. Furst’s characters are wonderful. His grasp of interwar politics is impressive and his matching descriptions of the impact they had on people’s lives and physical geography of Europe is often haunting. Yet he also stumbles on occasion when it come to weaving these elements into a sustained, compelling tale. Anyway, I sometimes think these writers’ limits reflect the marginalized space occupied at present by the left in general.

    Comment by burghardt — April 5, 2007 @ 4:18 am

  4. Burghardt, your mailbox is filled so my reply to your query bounced back to me. I referred you to excerpts of Ernest Mandel’s book on the crime novel that appear here: http://marxsite.com/delightful%20murder.htm.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — April 5, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

  5. Thanks. If you have anything else to add my mailbox in now clear.

    Comment by burghardt — April 5, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

  6. […] received this note from Richard Greener, an old friend and novelist who after receiving a new heart underwent an extended period of […]

    Pingback by Film notes 2007, conclusion « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — January 1, 2008 @ 11:06 pm

  7. I just finished reading The Knowland Retribution. I enjoyed the charaters so much that I ordered The Lacey Confession immediately, I can’t wait to start reading the next adventure of Walter Sherman. Richard Greener is a great storyteller.

    Comment by Janice Meador — January 24, 2008 @ 12:23 am

  8. Read both books, myself and some co-workers, we love them and are looking forward to more, can’t wait get well soon, fans from Hamilton, New Jersey

    Comment by barbara worthington — July 12, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

  9. I am trying to get hold of a copy of Richard Greener ‘Locator’ books as Bones has just aired here with the character in. However, in the UK no where stocks it and I am getting quotes of £160 for one book from the USA!!!! Do you know when it is going to be published here?

    Comment by Deborah — May 14, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  10. one book for £160; what, can you use the book as an alternative passport?

    Comment by omalone1 — July 19, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  11. […] I got word from Richard Greener, acclaimed author of the Locator novels and Bard College class of ’61, that a big profile on Leon Botstein had appeared in the New […]

    Pingback by The cult of Leon Botstein | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 23, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

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