Created by John Evans
Pseudonym of Howard Browne
Of all of Raymond Chandler's followers, the most Chandlerish of them all might have been Howard Browne.
And Browne's private eye hero, PAUL PINE, is simply one of the great eyes, no matter how inspired by (or derivative of ) Chandler's Philip Marlowe he obviously was.
In fact, Howard Browne's pseudonym, John Evans, was the name Chandler gave to his private detective in the short story "No Crime in the Mountains," which later formed part of the basis for the Marlowe novel, The Lady in the Lake. Browne, though, claimed this is just coincidence.
Still, deriviative or not, the Pine books are well worth reading, and A Taste of Ashes (1957), the fourth and final novel, is just a flat-out, stone-cold private eye classic. Pine is a former investigator for the Illinois State attorney's office in Chicago who works as a P.I. in Chicago. He's got the obligatory cynicism and snappy similes and metaphors down pat, though he tends to be a bit more down to earth than Marlowe, and often mocks his own tendencies to moroseness and world-weariness. And Browne was a stronger plotter than Chandler.
Browne was born in Omaha, and grew up the son of a bakery owner. He dropped out of high school and rode the rails to Chicago in the twenties, where he was a legman for a local newspaper before getting a job as a department store credit manager. He turned to pulp fiction writing in 1939, and became a magazine editor at Ziff-Davis publishing in 1941. He stayed in that position while writing science fiction, fantasy, and detective stories and novels both under his own name and the pseudonym John Evans. He even wrote a handful of stories about almost-P.I.s with such colourful monickers as Lafayette Muldoon and Wilbur Peddie.
The Pine books are well worth hunting down. In fact, it's a shame Browne stopped at four books and one short story. The guy could write. Unfortunately for lovers of the P.I. novel, Hollywood noticed, too, and made him "an offer he couldn't refuse." It was the early days of television, and the fledgling industry needed writers. "It took me a full five minutes to make up my mind," he recalled years later. He eventually went on to write and sell over 125 scripts for such TV shows as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Mannix, Bourbon Street Beat, Cheyenne, Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, Columbo, Simon and Simon and others, and also wrote the screenplays for several gangster films, including Capone, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Portrait of a Mobster.
Meanwhile, his Paul Pine books quietly developed a small but loyal cult following among P.I. readers. In 1985, almost thirty years after Pine's last appearance, Dennis McMillan published a book The Paper Gun. This volume collected the only previously-published Pine story, "So Dark For April," plus an incomplete Pine novel that Browne, in the foreword, calls "a story complete in itself. But it is not the whole novel."
Browne went on to relate how he had lost interest in the private eye genre, and so the story is only 122 pages in length, too long for a short story, but too short for a novel. According to McMillan, Browne, before he died, had rewritten The Paper Gun and added to it but never finished it. And that's a shame. There was magic in them thar pages and, indeed, in everything Browne wrote.
It took a while, but in 2018, Haffner Press finally released all four novels as well as The Paper Gun and "So Dark for April" in a collector's volume, Halo for Hire, but so far the novels individually remain out of print -- a significant black hole in the genre.
"I've just recently read the first Paul Pine novel, Halo in Blood. In Browne's memoir, he notes that he once met Chandler and told him, "I've been making a living off you for years." In some ways this book is more Chandler than Chandler, almost, but not quite a caricature of the PI novel. That said, it's also a great traditional PI novel. A good plot (though a bit stilted in places, but momentum gets you past those moments), great smartass quips and a PI whose hard-boiled shell covers a romantic yolk...
...but Browne was much more than just a pastiche artist. He may be even more skeptical of authority figures than Chandler. ***SPOILER*** When I first read this book about 20 years ago, I was shocked that the cop did it. Not that it didn't fit or that the cop hadn't already proved himself at least a jerk, but he was a cop. I think it was the first older PI novel I read with a corrupt cop (I still can't think of too many other examples form that era, except for Thompson, of course). And a priest did it in one of the other novels, Halo for Satan, I think. Was the killer another authority figure in Halo in Brass? I can't recall. Anyway, Browne has/had a healthy disdain for authority figures. Good books."
-- Dick Lochte
An incomplete novel, but a complete story, according to Browne.
A colourful autobiographical sketch by Browne, posted at the Dennis MacMillan Publishers site, covering his youth and career as a writer, as well as some interesting glances at the business of editing and writing for pulp magazines, Mickey Spillane and the filming of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Monte Herridge for the scoop on "The Paper Gun." Original cover scan of Halo in Blood courtesy of Mark Terry at Facsimile Dust Jackets.