Friday, October 29, 2010

Review of Halo in Blood by John Evans/Howard Browne (No Exit Press, 1988, originally published 1946)

Paul Pine is a former investigator for the State Attorney’s office who turned private detective when the administration changed. One afternoon he unwittingly gets caught in a funeral cortege and then trapped in the cemetery grounds for the strangest service he’s witnessed – a John Doe buried by clergymen from 12 different faiths. A homicide detective, George Zarr, is lurking outside the gates. Later that day he meets the millionaire John Sandmark who wants him to dig up enough dirt to get rid of the smooth talking, Jerry Marlin, who’s engaged to marry his wayward step-daughter, Leona. Leona likes to party and gamble, and as Pine seeks information on her suitor he soon finds himself tangling with a Chicago gangster, D’Allemand. When Pine is hired to deliver a $25,000 dollars ransom in a business kidnapping he’s attacked and the money taken, and whilst trailing Leona, Marlin is shot dead. Whatever is going on, it’s a complex puzzle, and someone is either trying to frame Pine or kill him. Neither of which he takes too kindly to.

Halo in Blood was published in 1946 and written by Howard Browne using the pen name John Evans. He published five novels, wrote over 125 scripts for such TV shows such as Maverick, Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, and Columbo, and also wrote screenplays for several films, including Capone, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Portrait of a Mobster. Halo in Blood was his first novel, though he’d spent the previous five years editing a pulp magazine and writing short stories. When Howard met Raymond Chandler he is reputed to have told him that he’d been making a living off of him for several years (and John Evans is a PI character in a Chandler short story). And there is no doubt that Halo in Blood, and Paul Pine (like a sizable chunk of PI stories), is derivative of Chandler and Philip Marlowe. In Browne’s case it works and Halo in Blood is an engagingly written, tightly plotted, entertaining slice of hardboiled crime fiction. The story does become overly complex, with a few too many twists, and the characters do feel a bit stock-like, but nonetheless it is a decent read.

6 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds like a lively story.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Very interesting, thanks Rob.

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. It does sound like a decent read.

George said...

This is an underrated book and unjustly forgotten. Thanks for bringing it to light!

Todd Mason said...

He actually wasn't yet editing before 1946, was he? I know he was installed at Ziff-Davis as their primary fiction-magazine editor after Ray Palmer left in '49...did he assist Palmer with the MAMMOTH titles before that?

Rob Kitchin said...

Todd, I cadged my information from http://www.thrillingdetective.com/pine.html and http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-howard-browne-1126255.html. They say that he started as an editor in 1941. The Independent orbituary is an excellent overview of his career. Must get Thin Air, which sounds cracking.