HOWARD BROWNE. Thin Air (1954).

09 May

A hotshot advertising executive, with his pretty wife and darling daughter in tow, arrives at their Westchester County home after a long drive from a summer place in Maine. The wife rushes into the house—and vanishes. ThinAir.jpgThe young ad exec, Ames Coryell, calls the police, but they’re of no help; to them, the natural corollary of a missing wife is a guilty husband.So Coryell races into town, where he puts his glib tongue and his ad agency to work. Rather than hire a private detective, he turns his fellow admen into a team of skip tracers, using their arts of persuasion and their media connections to cast a dragnet for his wife across Greater New York. These scenes, which send up Madison Avenue and the travesty that is “agency English” (a local patois in which ideas are perpetually being “run up a flagpole”), are the highlight of the novel. They hold echoes of Kenneth Fearing’s noir masterpiece The Big Clock (1946), and so does the tale’s chase and counter-chase plot. Although it lacks the poetic depth of the classic Fearing tale, this brisk little thriller does “meet the ball on the rise,” as one of Browne’s pitchmen might say.


Posted by on May 9, 2013 in American, Noir, Novel


2 responses to “HOWARD BROWNE. Thin Air (1954).

  1. John

    May 11, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    Hopefully I will have better luck leaving a comment now that I’m on my laptop. Tried to leave this yesterday (sneaking it in at work) and it was like typing with someone tracking my every letter. The characters appeared one at at time after a delay of about three seconds. Very odd…

    I have read two of the Paul Pine private eye books by Browne under his “John Evans” pseudonym. One of them is his infamous lesbian mystery which sure fooled me even if it was based on exaggerated stereotypes. I remember laughing out loud at the solution. Have yet to get to the other two or this book. Thin Air sounds like Smallbone Deceased which did not have a lot of business jargon but had lots of office politics. How was the impossible problem (the disappearance) handled? A good solution or just mundane?

  2. Mike

    May 12, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    Hi, John. Thanks for your comment (and for going the extra digital mile to leave it here). I’m bad about remembering solutions. Given how highly I prize a good puzzle, I should have a crackerjack mind when it comes to recalling how a writer brings one to an end—but paradoxically I don’t have such a mind. In any event, I’m fairly sure that the disappearance in “Thin Air” gets handled in a way that’s more mundane than not. The soul of this piece lies in the chase, and not in the destination. I did read “Smallbone Deceased” many years ago, and I wouldn’t compare this novel to that one. The Gilbert work, as I recall, is a classic English whodunit, whereas the Browne work has a noir-cum-Hitchcock feel to it. As I note, it’s very reminiscent of “The Big Clock.”

    I, too, have read a couple of the Paul Pine books. (I reviewed one of them here back in the early days of my book blogging. You should find that post if you search for “Halo in Blood.”) The Pine tales are superb, in my view—the sort of books that Chandler would have written had he been a straight-up professional, instead of a troubled genius.


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