Monday, February 27, 2012

Howard Browne : Thin Air, 1953


Howard Browne, one could say that it is today, a beautiful stranger. Born in Omaha (some say in 1907, others 1908), until 1939 the year when he began to write stories so-called pulp, he makes several thousand jobs. He is an author born: it is quick to note in that particular world, and for several years will be editor in chief of leading magazines like Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventure. From 1957 he began his collaboration with the golden world of celluloid, signing the screenplays for 4 films only  but also many successful television series including Mission Impossible, The Lieutenant Columbo, The Fugitive, Mannix, Perry Mason.

In the field of fiction is signed with the pseudonym of John Evans, the great novels of the series Halo 3 (Halo in Blood, 1946; Halo for Satan, 1948; Halo in Brass, 1949), creating Paul Pine, and even If You Have Tears (1947 ), in which a murder is committed by a banker in order to collect insurance money, and The Taste of Ashes, 1957, and, in 1985, the fifth and last, Paper Gun. As with its original name, he signatures Thin Air, 1953.

The Mysteries published under the pseudonym of John Evans and Howard Browne also are important for different reasons: they are direct and go to the heart, like the novels of James Cain, and have a clear derivation from Raymond Chandler. In fact, John Evans, in his case, is another detective character created by Chandler in his narrative of 1941, "No Crime in the Mountains", then served as the basis for the novel "The Lady in the Lake", and later repeated by Howard Browne. Not only: one of many pseudonyms used by Browne to write novels and short stories and detective stories and pulp fiction, is Lawrence Chandler.

Furthermore Browne was a remarkably inventive and eclectic author: Halo in Blood opens with a strange funeral, in which twelve prelates by twelve different orders participate in a burial, but then the case is complicated beyond belief, and the second novel in the Halo, Halo for Satan, concerns a case of an autograph of Jesus around which ripen several murders, plot that anticipates a range of incredibly esoteric thriller last generation, and Halo in Brass, speaks about lesbianism.

According to many, the best novel written by Browne, would be the very last, The Taste of Ashes, a novel raw, in which one finds this time Pine grappling once again with the clash with the police in a town, and ultimately against an entire country. It 'a novel with a rate slower than the others, because the saddest and best characterized in the same: there is a man that was not what he thought his wife, a wife who knew too much and a little girl who has a central function: In fact, the novel is about pedophilia, and therein lies the historic significance of Browne.
However, Browne revealed in interviews that the novel of his that he liked more and more,  just seems were Thin Air.

The novel opens with a woman who disappears: it seems even a Locked Room, but if there was not a particularly recently. A Locked Room can truly be considered closed if the volatilization of the murderer or the victim is incomprehensible, and doors, windows, shutters, chimneys, are undeniably closed, bolted or better. In this case however, while her husband was dozing after a long journey by car from the places of resort stays in the car with the three year old daughter, his wife, Leona, opens the door .. and disappears. But this can be understood later, after her husband closed the door behind him, put the baby to bed and he took a shower. Called his wife several times without being answered, exits, and you realize that what seemed a strange thing to say the least (a disappearance from a brothel) in reality it is not because the door that he remembered having closed even barred and carried to the back of the house, he was no longer. Instead, it was just closed. Ergo, the wife is gone. Why? Why should a woman wait a long time if you really wanted to leave her husband and daughter and do so much theater? Gradually, however, Ames Coryell, makes it clear that it isn’t certainly gone about, and which is connected to the disappearance of his wife's attempted murder of his neighbor who was found dying with head smashed into a bush. From here a tight investigation that will lead our protagonist to be even suspected of attempted murder (towards the close) and femicide, which then will turn into an accusation of double murder, before reaching the final rush and the solution. This is, however, comes through a series of moves, which more than suggest a Hardboiled itself, reminiscent of a novel that has its roots in classical detection: the splitting of a fetish, an overcoat, Ames will lead to re-evaluate the testimony of a girl of 3 years, although at first you do not really think is considering in a manner consistent, in fact, says the purest truth.

It should however be noted that, as I stressed in my speech elsewhere, the novel while being extremely smooth, confident manner and well written with some humor over the lines, has a small leak that is explained by the continuation of the story: do not understand it because only Ames should be accused of double murder (a real one and the other suggested) and not your neighbor's wife, when the motive is jealousy. If you really Ames, driven by jealousy for a hypothetical relationship between his wife and neighbor, had designed to kill them both, you do not understand why the wife of his neighbor, assuming the affair, should not have to be taken into consideration as the probable murderer . Certainly this hypothesis against Ames, along with his search for his wife, becomes a thorn hot because he is not exculpatory and roasted finish on the chair.

It should be said, however, I notice some interesting things: first, the importance of advertising agencies, and as a time, one of which is leading the protagonist, is used to enable a search that is not the market, though. Through the ether, the object of advertising that the listener becomes the subject and it will be one of them to give the track to resolve the situation.

Not only. I also note another detail very interesting: the figure of the policeman is detestable. Now this is a leit-motif in the novels of Browne: in fact those of the Halo series often takes around their own authorities, a sign of personal antipathy to everything that was by its nature, authoritative: the policeman, in Halo in Blood and the priest in Halo in Satan, and the banker If You Have Tears. In addition, another special ties this novel to other novels, and not just the atmosphere at the end: the name of the female protagonist, his wife Leona is disappearing. And in Halo in Blood, his first novel, Leona is the name of the daughter of tycoon John Sandmark.

Pietro De Palma


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