HOWARD BROWNE “So Dark for April.” Paul Pine. Novelette. First published in Manhunt, February 1953 [Vol. 1 No. 2] as by John Evans. Collected in The Paper Gun (Dennis McMillan, 1985) under the author’s real name, Howard Browne. Reprinted also under the author’s real name in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carrol & Graf, 1988).

   Unless I am mistaken, this is the only instance of Chicago-based PI Paul Pine appearing in a work of short fiction. Not only that, but if you’re a fan of Raymond Chandler, you really need to read this one. If Raymond Chandler never existed, neither would Paul Pine. He’s his own man, mind you, with his own particular brand of cases he tackled, so I can’t, nor wouldn’t, call the stories pastiches in any sense of term. What they are are a lot of fun to read. I’ll list all of Pine’s novel length investigations at the end of this review.

   It (probably) goes without saying, but you can’t get the full flavor of a Paul Pine story in one as short as “So Dark for April.” It has a semi-wacky opening, though, one that will draw any reader of PI stories right on in. Pine walks into his office one day only to find a dead man in his outer waiting room. The man has been shot in the chest. He has very little by which he could be identified, and his clothes do not match. A good new coat, dirty slacks, and shoes but no socks.

   The detective sergeant on the case is belligerent to Pine, nothing new there. Very seldom do cops and PI’s get along. The day is rainy, hence the title, but that’s nothing that people living in Chicago take much note about. Pine’s detective work is excellent, but it’s the telling that makes the story:

   It was one of those foggy wet mornings we get early in April, with a chill wind off the lake and the sky as dull as a deodorant commercial.

   His nails had the cared-for look, his face, even in death, held a vague air of respectability, and they didn’t trim hair that way at barber college.

   [Sergeant Lund] grinned suddenly, and after a moment, I grinned back. Mine was no phonier than his. He snapped a thumb lightly against the point of his narrow chin a time or two while thinking a silent thought, then turned back to the body.

      The Paul Pine series —

         As by John Evans:

Halo in Blood. Bobbs Merrill 1946
Halo for Satan. Bobbs Merrill 1948
Halo in Brass. Bobbs Merrill 1949

         As by Howard Browne:

The Taste of Ashes. Simon & Schuster 1957
The Paper Gun. Dennis McMillan 1985 (collection)