The first time I read this book, mostly likely when Reagan was Prez, I was struck by how Chandleresque it was. This time, the surprising thing was how Chandleresque it wasn't.
Maybe that's because I re-read Roy Huggins The Double Take not long ago, which is almost more Chandleresque than Chandler himself. After my Forgotten Books review (click HERE), I got an interesting email from David Wilson, who had once interviewed Huggins. "Huggins got his start by copying Chandler," David said, "and I do mean 'copying', writing Farewell My Lovely in longhand. It worked well enough for him that he recommended the process."
With Howard Browne (writing as John Evans), that is clearly not the case. Though the influence is obvious, Browne was not trying be Chandler, and his detective, Paul Pine, was not trying to be Philip Marlowe. By the time this book was published in 1946, Browne was already an experienced writer. He had his own voice, and there was no masking it.
There are tons of similes and metaphors, or course, or no one would be comparing this to Chandler. But would Chandler have tossed off lines like these?
I went back into the kitchen and drank two cups of coffee black as the devil’s reputation and strong as Tarzan of the Apes.
I made a show out of looking at my wrist watch. Two-thirty . . . and clients were as scarce as German generals named Cohen.
There's a nice bit when the female lead pays a visit to Pine's apartment:
“For a private detective,” she said over her shoulder, “you certainly read some odd books. Wilkinson’s Flower Encyclopedia; Warrior of the Dawn, by Howard Browne - whoever he is; and Marx’s Das Kaptial. What happened to your copy of Five Little Peppers?”
“I loaned it to another detective,” I said.
Warrior of the Dawn, a Burroughsy adventure novel, was Browne's first book, published three years earlier.
Like Browne, Paul Pine is his own man. His resemblance to Marlowe is only skin deep. Time and again, in situations where Marlowe would have saved his smart remarks for the narration, Pine mouths off, insulting everyone in sight. And while Marlowe, despite his sometimes-soft heart, is a pretty tough guy, Pine is not. It's a wonder he survives the book.
Thankfully, he does, so I'll soon have the pleasure of re-reading Halo in Brass, Halo for Satan, The Taste of Ashes and the sole short story, "So Dark for April."
Visit pattinase for the rundown on more Forgotten Books.
Coming Tomorrow: The Do Some Damage Christmas Noir Round-Up.