Circles. A halo is a circle. The Chicago Loop, where private investigator Paul Pine keeps an office, is a circle. Around the inner circle of the Loop are ringed outer circles, extending to Oak Park and Winnetka and Glencoe, and Pine works those circles in a case that pushes him around and around, down and down—corkscrew-like—until at last he ties the end of this case to its beginning. The result is a narrative arc that, if not quite a perfect circle, is very neat indeed.
Browne should be better known than he is. Writing in the manner pioneered by Raymond Chandler, he spins better similes than Chandler does—and boy, does he spin a lot of them. He’s a better plot-spinner than Chandler as well. To be sure, the raw material in this novel (Browne’s first) has a derivative quality. Yet what Browne lacks in originality, he makes up for in the formal elegance of his execution.
The set-up here is tried-and-true: A wealthy patriarch named John Sandmark calls Pine to his suburban manse and asks the sleuth to look out for Leona, his beautiful yet difficult daughter. Sandmark doesn’t like Leona’s latest male conquest, an oily fellow named Jerry Martin. Pine, tailing the couple, watches as a gunman emerges from the night to shoot Martin dead. (The cover illustration at right shows that pivotal scene.) More murders follow, and Pine links the killing wave first to a heist committed in San Diego a quarter-century earlier, and then to a strange funeral that he had chanced upon in the opening scene of this adventure. All of that linking culminates in a smash triple finish, with Pine pounding out three solutions—separate, but nested within one another—that together bring the matter full-circle. Pine doesn’t pretend that he sports any kind of halo on his hard, smart noggin, but he deserves to wear at least a tin crown for his work on this case.
[ADDENDUM: For a second illustration to this post, I plucked from the Web the cover of a 1940s pulp magazine that—as best I can tell—features the novel Halo in Blood under a slightly different title. “John Evans,” the author listed in the cover blurb, was the pen name under which Browne originally published the first three Paul Pine stories. (He wrote a fourth, A Taste of Ashes, under his own name.) Browne, by the way, was the editor of Mammoth Detective, among other pulps.]