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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)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

HOWARD BROWNE – The Taste of Ashes. Paul Pine #4. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1957. Dennis McMillan, trade paperback, 1988. TV adaptatation: Pilot episode of Bourbon Street Beat (ABC, 5 October 1959).

   An early contributor to the Ziff-Davis line of pulps in the 1940s, Howard Browne later became managing editor of several of that Chicago-based publisher’s science-fiction and fantasy magazines. He also wrote extensively for radio and early TV, scripting more than 700 dramatic shows for the two media.

   In 1946 he published his first mystery novel, Halo in Blood, under the pseudonym John Evans, and followed it with two more, Halo for Satan (1948) and Halo in Brass (1949); all three feature Chicago private detective Paul Pine, one of the best of the plethora of tough-guy heroes from that era. Although the Pine novels are solidly in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, they have a complexity and character all their own and are too well crafted to be mere imitations.

   The Taste of Ashes is the fourth and (at least as of this writing) final Paul Pine adventure. Browne evidently chose to publish this one under his own name because it is longer, more tightly plotted, and more ambitious than the “Halo” books. Offbeat, violent, exciting, it is the story of Pine’s involvement with the lethal Delastone clan:

    “… the Colonel, who wore his hair like the late William Jennings Bryan and was more afraid of scandal than of sudden death; Martha, a member of the sensible-shoe set; the lovely Karen, who owned a temper and a burglar tool; Edwin, who had gone to Heaven, or some place, leaving a monument of horror behind; and Deborah Ellen Frances Thronetree, age seven, an authority on the Bible and Captain Midnight, who was plagued by nightmares.”

   A hood with the wonderful name of Arnie Algebra, a reporter called Ira Groat, and the haunted widow of another private eye are just three of the rich array of other characters Pine encounters on his violent professional (and personal) odyssey.

   All three of the John Evans titles are also first-rate. Both Halo in Blood and Halo for Satan have highly unusual opening situations: In the former, Pine joins twelve other persons in the burial of a nameless bum; and in the latter, a Chicago bishop is offered a chance to buy a manuscript purportedly in the handwriting of Christ for the staggering sum of $25 million.

   Browne is also the author, under his own name, of a nonseries novel, Thin Air (1954); the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of advertising executive Ames Coryell’s wife and his utilization of his ad agency and its methods to track her down form the basis for this tale of suspense. Thin Air has received considerable praise, but this reviewer finds it somewhat farfetched and Coryell a less than likable protagonist. Paul Pine is a much better character, and the private-eye novel the true showcase for Browne’s talents.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bibliographic Update:   Published in 1985 by Dennis McMillan was the collection of Peter Pine stories entitled The Paper Gun, which included the unfinished and never before published title novel, plus the novelette “So Dark for April,” which previously appeared in Manhunt, February 1953, as by John Evans

HOWARD BROWNE as JOHN EVANS – Halo for Satan. Quill, paperback, circa 1984. First published as by John Evans: Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1948. Bantam #800, paperback, 1950; Bantam 1729, paperback, 1958.

JOHN EVANS Halo for Satan

   Over the years there have been mysteries written with the basic premise and understanding that the English language can be used to enhance the pure, unadulterated fun of reading. This is one of them.

   Paul Pine is a private eye, and even his client is an eye-opener and an eyebrow-raiser. And what Bishop McManus wants him to do is to track down a man who has offered to sell him a manuscript written, so he says, by Jesus Christ himself. The story goes on from there.

   Just before Pine finds the first body, he meets a girl. Page 38:

    I listened to the sound of high heels click into silence on the uncarpeted stairs. When there was nothing left but quiet, I lighted a cigarette and thought about Lola North. A slip of a girl who could put a flat-footed cop into his place, and who was probably proud of doing so. Maybe not, though. Maybe she was worrying a little over how easy the victory has been. And then again, maybe my sheriff’s star badge had been about as impressive as a grapefruit.

    A lovely girl, Lola North. Enough figure and not too many years and a face that could come back and haunt you and maybe stir your baser emotions. A girl who could turn out to be as pure as an Easter lily or steeped in sin and fail to surprise you either way.

   Later, going back into his office, Pine is given a good solid knock on the head. As he comes to, pages 63-64, he finds that there is another woman involved:

JOHN EVANS Halo for Satan

    I got a shoulder under my eyelids and heaved hard and they slid about halfway before they stuck again. It was like opening cottage windows after a rain. Pain gnawed at the back of head like rats in a granary.

    The hunk of ribbon and the smooth red hair were back again, with a face under them I hadn’t noticed before.

    It was a face to bring hermits down out of the hills, to fill divorce courts, to make old men read upon hormones. A face that could sell perfume or black lace undies and make kitchen aprons a drug on the market. Good skin under expert make-up to make it look even better. Brown eyes, with a silken sheen to them. Eyes with a careful, still look as though never just sure what the brain behind them was up to. A nose you never quite saw because her full lips kept pulling you away from it. Hair smooth on top and a medium bob in back that was pushed up here and there to make it casually terrific.

    And my aching head was supported pleasantly on a cloth-covered length of firm warm flesh that was one of the lady’s thighs.

    I said, “I laughed at a scene like this not more than an hour ago. I thought the usher was going to throw me out.”

    Her expression said she thought I was out of my head. I would have liked to be, after what had been done to it.

    “Are you all right?” It was the kind of voice the rest of her deserved: husky, full-throated, yet subdued.

    I said, “How do I know if I’m all right? I think I’ll kind of stand up.”

JOHN EVANS Halo for Satan

   Later on Lola North begins to tell Pine some of her story. Page 102:

    She turned her head to give me a long level stare. “In one way or another,” she said tightly, “I feel it’s largely my fault that my husband’s in trouble. I’m trying to make amends by getting him out of it. That’s why I followed him to Chicago.”

    I pushed what was left of my cigarette through the air vent and stretched as much of my frame as the limited space would allow. “Go ahead,” I said wearily, “and tell me. Pour out the words. My spirits are low and my ears are numb, but I’ll listen. Other people read books or go to the fights or walk in the sun or make love. But not poor old Pine. He just sits and listens.”

    She said stiffly, “This was your idea. You wanted to know these things,”

    “Yeah. Go ahead and tell them to me.”

   The next morning, Pine gets back to his office. Page 118:

    Nine-thirty was early for me to be at the office, any morning. But I had wakened about eight o’clock, dull-eyed and unhappy, and filled with a vast restlessness that had no answer.

    It was a dreary, rain-swept day, raining the kind of rain that comes out of a sky the color and texture of a flophouse sheet and goes on and on. I opened the inner-office window behind its glass ventilator, put my hat and trench coat on the customer’s chair and poked my shoe at the windrows of office junk left on the floor by yesterday’s prowler. The cleaning lady must have taken one look at the wreckage and gone downstairs to quit.

JOHN EVANS Halo for Satan

   On pages 130-131, Pine is at the home of the second woman:

    “Damn you,” she said. And then she laughed. “I’m not through with you yet, mister!”

    “What about Myles? Is he as broad-minded as he is rich?”

    She shrugged and she wasn’t laughing any more. “The hell with him,” she said recklessly. “I need young men — men with the sap of life in their veins and a good strong back. Myles is too old for me.”

    I said, “Another woman said almost the same thing to me last night. What’s the matter with you dames? You make a guy afraid of reaching his forties.”

   Later, after sitting around in his office with nothing happening for several hours, Pine starts to leave. Page 139:

    By eight-thirty I had all I could take. I had gone through everything in the paper except the want ads, there was a mound of cigarette butts in the ashtray, and my tongue tasted like something rejected by a scavenger. I glowered at my wrist watch, growled “Up the creek, brother!” for no reason at all and put on my trench coat and hat.

    The fat little dentist in the next office was locking his door for the day as I came out into the corridor. He nodded to me. “Good evening, Mr. Pine. You’re later than usual.”

    “And all for nothing,” I said. “I nearly came in to have you drill one of my teeth. Just for something to do.”

    His smile was a little sad in a dignified way. “I could have used the business, sir.”

Back in his office a little while later, on page 169:

    I dug out the McGivern mystery novel it finished it over half a pack of cigarettes. The women in it were beautiful and the private eye was brilliant. I would have like to be brilliant, too. I would even have liked to be reasonably intelligent. I put the book away.

   There is twist upon twist in the story that surrounds all these quotes, not all of them believable in the cold, clear eye of dawn, but they will make you sit up and take notice. Guaranteed.

— September 2003

Note:   The cover of the first Bantam paperback was “covered” earlier here on this blog.

by Marvin Lachman


HOWARD BROWNE – Halo in Brass. Dennis McMillan, trade paperback, 1988. Originally published as by John Evans: Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1949; paperback reprint: Pocket #709, July 1950.

   Another Eastern writer besides Steve Fisher who hit it big in the movie and television industry of Hollywood was Howard Browne, whose movie credits included The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and who wrote television shows like Mission Impossible and The Rockford Files.


   Dennis McMillan Publications has recently reprinted one of Browne’s best books, Halo in Brass, which he originally published in 1949 as by John Evans.

   As Evans, Browne wrote a small series of books about Chicago private eye Paul Pine, and each is memorable. Brass concerns Pine’s efforts to find a young woman who disappeared after she left Nebraska to live in Chicago.

   It explores themes not generally written of in the mysteries of its era, but don’t read Browne-Evans just because he was ahead of his time. Read him because he was a remarkable story teller, one who was imaginative and who created one of the best first-person narrators in the long history of the private detective novel.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 1988
         (slightly revised).

Reviewed by GLORIA MAXWELL:         

HOWARD BROWNE – Thin Air. Carroll & Graf, reprint paperback, 1983. Originally published by Simon & Schuster, hc, 1954; Dell #894, pb, 1956.

   Ames Coryell, successful advertising executive, is bringing his wife, Leona, and their three year old daughter home from a peaceful, happy summer vacation. They arrive home at 3:00 a.m. Leona opens the front door and goes into their home. In the time it takes her husband to carry their daughter upstairs and come back down, she has disappeared — into thin air.

   No signs of a struggle, purse left behind, and no goodbye note. What happened to Leona? And why does their daughter tell the police “Why didn’t Mommy come home with us?”

   Ames attempts to locate Leona himself, after feeling frustrated by the apparent unconcern of the police. On the other hand, the police consider it a strong possibility that Ames killed his wife.

   When a woman resembling Leona is found murdered (discovered by Ames, no less!), the action and intrigue quicken.

   This is a tautly written tale, with strong characterization and a compelling style. Thin Air is not likely to disappoint any mystery fan.

— Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986.

BOURBON STREET BEAT. “A Taste of Ashes.” ABC, 05 October 1959 (Season 1, Episode 1). Richard Long (Rex Randolph), Andrew Duggan (Cal Calhoun), Arlene Howell (Melody Lee Mercer), Van Williams (Kenny Madison). Guest Cast: Joanna Moore, Fredd Wayne, Karl Weber, Isobel Elsom, Jean Byron, Jean Allison. Based on the novel by Howard Browne. Director: Leslie H. Martinson. Currently streaming online here.

   When you’re a private detective and your partner is murdered, you’re obliged to do something about it. Especially when the local cop tells you it’s suicide and you know it’s not. Such is the case that Rex Randolph (Richard Long) finds himself on, taking over from the one that his partner, a chap named Jelkens, was working on.

   Randolph’s office is in New Orleans (not Chicago, as in the book), but most of the action takes place in Pelican Point, a town run by a wealthy matriarch who doesn’t want certain information made public. Blackmail is a nasty business, but the head cop doesn’t want Randolph or any of his assistance anywhere around. An older man on the force, tired of working under younger fellows, is a lot of more sympathetic, and I hope I don’t spoil anything for anybody by telling you that this older guy is named Cal Calhoun (Andrew Duggan), who by episode’s end is Randolph’s new partner.

   There is a noirish vibe in this episode – well, why not, being set in New Orleans and close environs as it is – that’s less present in contemporary stablemate Surfside 6, say, or even 77 Sunset Strip. at least this time around.

   The book is still better, though, a well-recognized masterpiece in the hardboiled/PI/noirish vein. (For Bill Pronzini’s 1001 Midnights review of the book, go here.)




JOHN EVANS – Halo in Brass. Paul Pine #3. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1949. Pocket 709, paperback, 1950. Bantam 1727, paperback, 1958. McMillan, paperback, 1988, as by Howard Browne.

   Paul Pine, a Chicago P.I., has been hired by an elderly couple in Lincoln, Nebraska to find their missing daughter. Her last known residence was in Chicago, having fled the small towny-ness of Nebraska for the big city.

   His only lead is the girl’s high school friendship with a prostitute who also made her way to the city. But every time Pine finds a lead, the lead witness winds up dead.

   The plot hinges on a thread/threat of (L)esbianism (which word is capitalized in the book as if the women were immigrants from the island of Lesbos). Browne expresses regret for this in the 1988 introduction and says that with the benefit of hindsight he never would have written the plot the way that he did.

   I personally (though I am not a woman (and thus my opinion is of questionable import) and not a lesbian though I have joked of being a lesbian trapped in a man’s body) thought that the lesbian angle was not handled particularly poorly. In fact, (SPOILER ALERT) there’s a trans twist in the story that I think might cinematically work even today—and to some extent has already been used in The Crying Game.

   Browne himself as a young man made the same move as the missing girl, hitchhiking from Lincoln to Chicago, which perhaps lends some verisimilitude to his presentation of the narrative.

   While not up to the level of his masterful Taste of Ashes, Halo in Brass remains a very enjoyable and well done Chandleresque detective novel.


Time Travel and the Hardboiled Detective Novel,
by Tony Baer.


   So the question is, why am I so into the hardboiled detective novels of the 20’s-70’s?

   Nobody asked. So I asked myself.

   And what it is kinda first dawned on me on an art exhibit I saw in Montreal about “Streamlining” as American culture.

   Streamlining in American culture, the sleek aerodynamic look of toasters, Airstream campers, vacuum cleaners, radios, cars, planes, became ubiquitous sometime after the end of World War I. The design dominated American design throughout the 30’s and 40’s.

   It dawned on me that at the same time that American design was being streamlined, so was American prose, by such folks as Hemingway, Hammett and Jim Tully. Each of Tully, Hammett and Hemingway got their hardboiled everyman voice honestly. Hemingway as a war correspondent and army medic, Hammett as a soldier and Pinkerton, and Tully as a bindlestiff. Cheap pulp magazines and paperbacks made reading affordable for the masses. And they didn’t want to read the long-winded labyrinthian pages of Henry James. They wanted everyday language, terse and to the point.

   At this zenith of American culture, folks were confident that they knew who they were, knew right and wrong, and knew what they were saying and how to say it. There was very little existential angst. And I have to say, I envy them.


   So, the point?

   I’m not sure. But it may be helpful to illustrate what I’m talking about with some quotes and examples:

1. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner

2. “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Albert Einstein

3. In the 80’s made for TV movie, Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeve is staying at a B&B when he falls madly in love with a woman in an old 1800’s photo. He obsessively finds out everything he can about her, and then surrounds himself with period clothes, coins and culture. After passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum, meet his fair lady and consummate his love.

4. In “Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges, a contemporary man decides he wants to spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word. So he moves to the same area that Cervantes lived, builds himself a similar hovel, eats the same foods, drinks the same drinks, reads the same medieval chivalric romances, dresses the same, buys an old suit of armor, and, after passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum and spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word.

5. “What you yourself can suffer is the utmost that can be suffered on earth. If you starve to death you experience all the starvation that ever has been or ever can be. If ten thousand other women starve to death with you, their suffering is not increased by a single pang: their share in your fate does not make you ten thousand times as angry, nor prolong your suffering ten thousand times. Therefore do not be oppressed by “the frightful sum of human suffering”: there is no sum: two lean women are not twice as lean as one nor two fat women twice as fat as one. Poverty and pain are not cumulative: you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is. If you can stand the suffering of one person you can fortify yourself with the reflection that the suffering of a million is no worse: nobody has more than one stomach to fill nor one frame to be stretched on the rack.” George Bernard Shaw

6. In “A New Refutation of Time” by Borges, he argues that all that exists are experiences. The experiences exist regardless of ‘time’. You watch a cardinal as it sits on a fence. The experience of seeing the cardinal on the fence is all that there is. There’s no ‘you’. There’s no ‘time’. There’s just the experience of watching a cardinal on a fence. This experience has occurred millions of times, over millions of years. The experience is neither past nor future, neither true nor false. It simply is. All that we hope and all that we fear will never come to pass, because hope and fear always happen in a future that never comes. Rather, we are in an eternal present. An eternal flow of experiences, repeated eternally regardless of whether a single individuals may cease to be.

   So, the idea seems to be that the main thing is ‘time’. The main thing is the experience. What makes us grieve our loss is the unbreachable breach between present and past.

   But is it unbreachable? I beseech you: it is not.

   So how do I time travel? I read the books of the hardboiled era. I read Hammett, Cain and Chandler. I read Hemingway and Tully. I read the Macdonalds, I read the Bart Spicers, the Deweys, the Steinbecks, the Howard Brownes, the Tom Kromers, the Jack Blacks, the Norbert Davises, the Raoul Whitfields, the Harry Whittingtons, the hardboiled peeps. I read them and become an experience. An experience where I know who I am, I know right from wrong, I know what to say and how to say it. All is clear. There is no angst.

THE BEST OF MANHUNT 2. Edited by Jeff Vorzimmer. Stark House, trade paperback, August 2020.

   Well, this was a nice surprise. It was a typical gray and gloomy sky here in Connecticut all day, drizzling on and off, or at least it was until I discovered what Rose my mail carrier dropped off for me this afternoon, and all of sudden everything got a whole lot cheerier.

   I’ve not begun to read it, but you can bet the farm I will be over the next few months until August when it officially comes out and you’ll be able to as well. I’ve listed the contents below. You may be struck as quickly that as I was that some of the authors don’t seem to have the same “name value” that the first collection did. I think that that’s all to the good and am willing to wager that the stories were chosen on how good they are, and not so much who wrote them.

   If there are any errors in the Table of Contents below, they’re mine. I didn’t type them in by hand, but OCR scanning is still often only an approximate art.

Forward: For The Love of Manhunt … Peter Enfantino. .. 7
Introduction … Jon L. Breen … 11
On the Passing of Manhunt … Jon.L. Breen … 15
Life and Death of a Magazine … Robert Turner … 17
A Stabbing in the Street … Elezazer Lipsky … 23
As I Lie Dead … Fletcher Flora … .36
So Dark for April … Howard Browne … 49
Shakedown … Roy Carroll … 66
The Choice … Richard Deming … 73
Confession … John M. Sitan … 85
The.Empty Fort … Basil Heatter … 92
You Can’t Trust a Man … Helen Nielsen … 127
Sylvia … Ira Levin … 136
Protection … Erle Stanley Gardner … 15
Blonde at tl1e Wheel Stephen Marlowe 154
Vanishing Act … W. . Burnett … 166
One More Mile to Go … F. J. Smith … 186
Key Witness … Frank Kane … 192
Puddin’ nd Pie … De. Forbes … 229
Blood and Moonlight … William R. Cox … 234
Shadowed … Richard Wormser … 244
Deatl1 of a Big Wheel … William Campbell Gault … 248
The Geniuses … Max Franklin … 271
Kitchen Kill … Jonathan Craig … 285
The Crying Target … James McKimmey … 299
The Girl Friend … Mark Mallory … 320
Midnight Caller … Wade Miller … 326
Arrest … Donald E Westlake … 329
Time to Kill … Bryce Walton … 333
Absinthe for Superman … Robert Edmond Alter … 356
Wharf Rat … Robert Page Jones … 333
The Safe Kill … Kenneth Moore … 374
A Question of Values … C. L. Sweeney, Jr … 378
Shatter Proof … ]ack Ritchie … 381
The Old Pro … H. A. DeRosso … 385
Retribution … Michael Zuroy … 395
In Memoriam … Charles Boeckman … 398
Bugged … Bruno Fischer … 402
Interference … Glenn Canary … 412


[UPDATE] Jiro Kimura has advised me that the contents have changed slightly from the galley from which I obtained the above to the final product. He says: “It does not have ‘Sylvia’ by Ira Levin but ‘Where There’s Smoke’ by Edward D. Hoch instead, which was an Al Darlan story first printed in the March 1964 issue of Manhunt.

   “Hoch’s story was placed at the bottom of the contents page and the last one in the book.”

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe #1. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, digest paperback, 1942; New Avon Library [#38], paperback, 1943. Movie photoplay edition: World, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; director Howard Hawks; Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe). Also: United Artists, 1978 (screenwriter-director: Michael Winner; Robert Mitchum as Marlowe).

   It is difficult to imagine what the modern private eye story would be like if a forty-five-old ex-oil company executive named Raymond Chandler had not begun writing fiction for Black Mask in 1933. In his short stories and definitely in his novels, Chandler took the hardboiled prototype established by Dashiell Hammett, reshaped it to fit his own particular vision and the exigencies of life in southern California, smoothed off its rough edges, and made of it something more than a tale of realism and violence; he broadened it into a vehicle for social commentary, refined it with prose at once cynical and poetic, and elevated the character of the private eye to a mythical status — “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

   Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language. (Howard Browne, the creator of PI Paul Pine, once made Chandler laugh at a New York publishing party by introducing himself and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Chandler. I’ve been making a living off your work for years.”

   Even Ross Macdonald, for all his literary intentions, was at the core a Chandler imitator: Lew Archer would not be Lew Archer, indeed might not have been born at all, if Chandler had not created Philip Marlowe.

   The Big Sleep , Chandler’s first novel, is a blending and expansion of two of his Black Mask novelettes, “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935) and “The Curtain” (September 1936) — a process Chandler used twice more, in creating Farewell, My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and which he candidly referred to as “cannibalizing.”

   It is Philip Marlowe’s first bow. Marlowe does not appear in any of Chandler’s pulp stories, at least not by name: the first person narrators of “Killer in the Rain” (unnamed) and “The Curtain” (Carmody) are embryonic Marlowes, with many of his attributes. The Big Sleep is also Chandler’s best-known title, by virtue of the well-made 1944 film version directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

   On one level, this is a complex murder mystery with its fair share of clues and corpses. On another level, it is a serious novel concerned (as is much of Chandler’s work) with the corrupting influences of money and power. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, an old paralyzed ex-soldier who made a fortune in oil, to find out why a rare-book dealer named Arthur Gwynn Giger is holding his IOU signed by Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the wild and immoral Carmen, and where a blackmailing abler named Joe Brody fits into the picture.

   Marlowe’s investigation embroils him with Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, and her strangely missing husband, Rusty, a former bootlegger; a thriving pornography racket; a gaggle of gangsters, not the least of which is a nasty piece of work named Eddie Mars; hidden vices and family scandals; and several murders. The novel’s climax is more ambiguous and satisfying than the film’s rather pat one.

    The Big Sleep is not Chandler’s best work; its plot is convoluted and tends to be confusing, and there are loose ends that are never explained or tied off. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful and riveting novel, packed with fascinating characters and evocatively told. Just one small sample of Chandler’s marvelous prose:

   The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had a unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

   That passage is quintessential Chandler; if it doesn’t stir your blood and make you crave more, as it always does for this reviewer, he probably isn’t your cup of bourbon.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.