Friday, January 7, 2011

Forgotten Books: HALO IN BLOOD by John Evans (Howard Browne)

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.


Todd Mason said...

And, apparently, Browne even ghosted not just the "Mickey Spillane" story he published in his magazine FANTASTIC, but the Roy Huggins story for the magazine, too...but, yeah, those do strike me as not Too far from Chandleresque lines.

Anonymous said...

I actually read this novel before I read any Chandler, and it blew me out of my chair. Seriously, it was decades back and I can still quote some of Pine's lines.
'She had two good reasons for wearing a sweater and her legs were probably good for walking, too." The book founded my enthusiasm for the detective genre.
Didn't read the rest of the series until after I'd gone through Chandler and a small library of detective novels.
I found Halo for Satan almost as good, Halo in Brass less so, and Taste of Ashes to be one of the best private eye novels ever.
Many thanks for this post-- it really encourages me to do some re-reading.

John Hocking

Anonymous said...

Love Howard Browne, Halo in Brass was the first non-Chandler, non-Hammett PI novel I read. I actually think that each Pine novel gets better than the last and that Blood is the least successful. Browne was a really good writer though. I could sit down to read a chapter and blast through a whole book.

I actually searched for about 3 years for The Taste of Ashes in my pre-online days. It was worth all the shoe leather I wore out.

Dan Luft

Charles Gramlich said...

I have not read it but I like the title quite much.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have Halo for Satan somewhere.

George said...

I love the cover on the Bantam edition! I think a small press reprinted these books recently. I have a hazy memory of buying copies of HALO IN BLOOD and HALO FOR SATAN at a recent BOUCHERCON.

Deka Black said...

Wghen comes to detective stories, i fear i'm limited to a few short stories of Dashiel Hammet and Red Harvest. So many to read, so little time.

Evan Lewis said...

I have some of Browne's Wilbur Peddie stories in Mammoth Detective. I should probably scan one and post it sometime soon.

Richard R. said...

No, Ray wouldn't of writ them. Not hardly.

Still, I might try this one, if it was laying around when I wanted to read something like that. Yep, Halo in Brass is a good one.

Cullen Gallagher said...

"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 love it!

Anonymous said...

Go ahead and scan the Wilbur Peddie stories -- I've never heard of them.

Dan Luft