RARA-AVIS: Howard Browne, a little late

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 13 Jul 2001

I've been meaning to write this for a while, but never got around to it. Anyway, I've been working my way through Howard Brown'e anthology Incredible Ink. As many have already noted, A Brief Memoir is very interesting, both for its insight into Browne's writing and his comments on writers with whom he worked.

Most of the stories I've read so far feature Wilbur Peddie. The stories are good, but Peddie is anything but hardboiled. He wears a bowler and is always very proper and polite, although this does not stop him from picking locks or misrepresenting himself while trying to skiptrace deadbeats for the Tinsley Department Store. So Peddie is a meek, mild kind of guy in a slightly hardboiled world, as represented by a pair of cops he keeps running into. One of them finds Peddie highly amusing, even as he relies on him to solve the murders Peddie stumbles across.

Lafayette Muldoon is the troubleshooter for a real estate company. He is a smartass and a ladies man, but I still wouldn't call him hardboiled. He's kind of a younger, single version of Nick Charles.

So far, Man in the Dark is the only one without one of Browne's regular characters. This is the story he wrote using the name of his friend Roy Huggins. In some ways it's a dry run for Thin Air. Both revolve around a man who refuses to believe what everyone else is telling him about what has happened to his wife. Still, not too hardboiled.

I also read the first Paul Pine novel, Halo in Blood. In the Memoir, Browne 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 hardboiled shell covers a romantic yolk.

However, Browne was not 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.


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