Re: RARA-AVIS: Howard Browne

From: William Denton (
Date: 14 Jun 2001

On 11 June 2001, Anders Engwall (ERA) wrote:

: Now, TASTE OF ASHES is something else. If Browne's reputation should
: rest on one single novel, this is it. There are a couple of obvious
: surface differences to the Halo books; there are considerably fewer --
: if any -- Chandlerisms and there are none of those almost silly plot
: points. But deeper and more important is the change in mood. There is
: a seriousness to ASHES that just was not there in the Halo books.
: Where the Halos merely entertained, ASHES really grabbed me.

I just read THE TASTE OF ASHES, and I agree it's great. Very much in the Chandler mode, but a post-Chandler work even though it came out in 1957, a year before PLAYBACK. There are a number of references to how things are in books, and some standard slang is questioned as being out of date. This is classic piece of hardboiled fiction on all counts: the noble detective, the town controlled by a rich family, the gorgeous women, the drinking, the emptiness, the cops, the gangsters, the alcohol, but Browne knows how it fits into the genre. He says in the intro to Dennis McMillan's edition, "With the publication, in 1949, of the third Paul Pine novel, HALO IN BRASS, I felt that I had gone as far as I could in the private eye genre. I had become increasingly aware that the format was as stylized and predictable as an Indian rain dance and no longer the kind of writing I wanted to do." When his editor asked him for another one eight years later, though, he did it and it went smoothly and he thought it was the best Pine of them all.

Here's a bit from chapter eight that I liked, especially because Toronto's very hot right now:

| Time to rest, time to put aside the cares and tensions, to pick up a
| little shut-eye. Only there was too much in me that had sharp edges and
| a gritty feel. Too much that was anger and frustration and the savage
| memories of the night. A body and too much blood and a woman's small
| shuddering cry. A cop in a swivel-chair, his face a dull red, his eyes
| evasive. The knowledge that cities are run like cities and not
| germ-free sections of Utopia. Crimes--even crimes the size of
| murder--swept under the municipal rug because somebody upstairs wanted
| them hidden for reasons of his own. The Fix. Always the Fix.
| Traffic sounds filtered in through the screened window and died on the
| floor. The world was awake and up and out. But not Pine. He was safe
| abed, nursing his wounded ideals, dwelling on the flaws of Life. Think
| nothing of it, pal. Get on out and make the big money, eat the rich
| food, sleep with the pretty girls. Like the man says, it's a world you
| never made.
| The bedside clock ticked away. The heat grew slowly unbearable. In the
| kitchen, the icebox lurched and whined. And then I was out of bed and
| getting dressed and drinking my coffee, and by nine o'clock I was behind
| the wheel of the Plymouth on my way downtown.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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