The last of Dashiell Hammett's novels was "The Thin Man," and what a last novel it is. A hard-edged whodunnit, Hammett's writing had become very polished and his characters even more intricate by the time he wrote this, and while it's not the best he had written, it's a solid example of his work.
Nick Charles was a rough'n'tough detective... until he married wealthy socialite Nora. Now he's retired early, drinks a lot, and has no apparent wish to come into contact with his messy past life. Enter Dorothy Wynant, daughter of weird (and possibly insane) inventor Clyde Wynant. As it happens, Wynant's secretary/mistress has just been murdered, and was found dying by his ex-wife Mimi.
Nick keeps insisting that he doesn't want to detect, but somehow he gets sucked into it anyway when a gangster (ex-boyfriend of the murdered woman) invades his home and nearly kills him. Dorothy keeps popping up and pleading for help and protection; Charles' old flame Mimi is acting oddly; and her husband has some secrets of his own. Despite Nick's aversion to detective work, he and Nora set out to unravel the mystery surrounding the Thin Man. (Wynant, for your information)
Hammett's cynical attitude was a huge part of his writing, but there's a new dimension to it in "Thin Man." Charles spends a lot of time trying to distance himself from his detective past, and in a way it feels like Hammett was distancing himself from his detective novels. Was Nick's dissatisfaction a sign of Hammett's? Quite possibly.
But many of the things about "Thin Man" are vintage Hammett: lying waifs, men in disguise, lots of lying and booze. Almost everyone is sociopathic, and Nick and Nora aren't exactly what one would call "heroes." However, the dialogue is sharp and witty and the action is slickly exciting. Best of all, Hammett's writing had evolved a bit from his minimalist style; here he describes things like Mimi snarling in a bit more detail.
Nick is the quintessential Hammett anti-hero (cynical, tough, and more than a little obnoxious), except here he's a bit weathered and tired out. Sam Spade and the Continental Op were on top of their games, but he's past his. Nora comes across as a little perkier but as tough in her own way. The crazy Wynant family, like manipulative mom Mimi and freaky son Gilbert, serves as a nice source of conflict.
"The Thin Man" wasn't the best thing Hammett ever wrote, but it's still a solid mystery read. Pass the martinis.
on July 25, 2002
This book actually is worth reading a couple of times. Read it the first time for fun, but then reread it to see what you missed seeing the first time around.
You probably know the basic plot. A former private eye has given up on the detective work after his wife has inherited her father's businesses, and is running her financial affairs for her. On vacation, they run into his former acquaintances and, of course, a mystery develops which he reluctantly is persuaded to investigate.
There are a lot of undertones here. The obvious fact is that both husband & wife are slipping into alcoholism, although he's ahead of her. He has lost interest in what was once his very life. He apparantly slips out on her on occasion, and she seems to tolerate it...they obviously love each other. But he's not the man he once was. He's going to avoid violent confrontations and he takes the easy way out. His drinking habit, his unwillingness to exert himself in solving a crime, the fact that the only noticeable cheating on Nora is at a party where the other woman apparantly drags him off...all this indicates a once vital person such as Sam Spade or, to compare with another author's detective, Phillip Marlowe who is losing interest in life.
I wonder if this book didn't inspire Raymond Chandler's idea for POODLE SPRINGS which opens with Phillip Marlowe's having married a wealthy woman. Chandler only wrote four chapters before his death and Robert Parker finished it, showing Marlowe as too rough hewn a character to settle into the wealthy life style.
But Nick Charles gave in to it, and maybe was worse off for doing so.
This isn't the strongest of Hammett's books, but it sure is worth reading and wondering a bit about.
on June 23, 2002
Unlike the famous film version starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, the characters of Dashiell Hammett's THE THIN MAN range in tone from vapid to vicious, with only Nick and Nora Charles emerging as somewhat similar to their cinematic counterparts. The plot is also considerably less lean, and Hammett packs it with a number of unnecessary excursions that tend to sidetrack the flow of action. The result is less of an action-packed detective story than it is a portrait of New York in the early 1930s, where cops are brutal and stupid, society rubs shoulders with criminals in lowlife speakeasies, and every one is out for what they can get.
And what they want are sex and money and more sex, preferrably laced with bootleg liquior. Fans of the film will easily recognize the basic plot: retired detective Nick Charles is unwilling dragged into the search for a former client, inventor Clyde Wynant, who is wanted for questioning in connection with the brutal murder of his secretary-mistress. But not only the police want him: ex-wife Mimi is low on funds and would like to lay hands on his dough, his estranged children Dorothy and Gilbert have vested interests of their own, and Mimi's current husband is playing his own hand as well. The characters are considerably darker here, particularly in reference to Dorothy and Gilbert, with Dorothy a manipulative and hard-drinking little tramp and Gilbert an ineffectual weakling; mother Mimi is viciously neurotic and abusive; and the missing Clyde Wynant is so eccentric that whether or not he had a hand in the murder he clearly needs to be locked up. To further complicate matters, both Dorothy and Mimi are on the make for Nick Charles. As for Nick and wife Nora, they possess considerable sparkle--but they too are of this world, Nick clearly en route to an alcoholic hell and pulling Nora along with him.
Hammett writes with his usual strength, but as a novel THE THIN MAN lacks the focus of his more famous THE MALTESE FALCON, and his digressions and excursions hinder the book as a whole. Even so, his dark and frequently witty look at the underbelly of depression-era New York packs enough punch to bring it in at a solid four stars. Recommended for fans of the classic "hard boiled" style, but probably of more interest to hard-core completists than casual readers.
on July 6, 1999
I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who once said, "Hammett is one of those good writers ruined by Hollywood." This book shows Fitzgerald's quote in action.
Don't misunderstand me, 'The Thin Man' is an excellent story. It's amuzing, tense, and contains possibly Hammett's most memorable characters, but it's also a complete departure from his previous novels. In a way, 'The Thin Man' is a farewell. Here we have a once hard-boiled detective, Nick Charles, who has settled down with his wise-cracking wife, Nora, and doesn't want anything to do with his previous work. Instead, Nick drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and goes to parties, and hosts parties, and the like. Whenever anyone questions Nick over the case that he's rumored to be working, Nick simply claims that he doesn't want anything to do with being a detective and leaves it at that.
This being Hammett's final novel, I believe that it an all too valid assumption that Hammett was using the character of Nick to symbolize himself and his own mentality. To connect this with Fitzgerald's comment, following the publication of 'The Thin Man', some movie studio handed Hammett a check for something like $40,000 for use of the characters, cementing his literary decrepitude, and he never worked again.
But it is a good read, very good, and while I would have liked to have given it the full five stars, i've chosen to remain with four, as 'The Thin Man' just doesn't compare with many of Hammett's other classics.
When I see a film based on a novel, I like to read the novel to compare plots and execution. Most of the time the novel or story is fuller than the movie due to the short media time and the target audience. In this case, the novel does have a better-developed plot and is more cohesive. The characters are more true to form and there is a real Rosewood/Rosebrien. However, the book characters are more sinister and Dorothy is sleazy. I planed to make this the last story I would read by Dashiel Hammett. However, others tell me I just picked the wrong one to start with.
The film on the other hand, was modified to give a lighter approach. It is the film that I will think of as the real "Thin Man" and Maureen O'Sullivan as the real Dorothy that was concerned about her father. Speaking about that, what is the Sullivan act?
The Thin Man Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy
on May 16, 2001
I imagine for people way into the detectival genre, this is not the book for them. However, the characters in this book are a hoot!! Nobody's telling anyone the whole truth, no one is sure who they can trust. The mystery, as with everything else in this novel, is a bit bizarre, but I think the important part of this book is the characterization. The Wynants/Jorgensons are all nuts. Many of the men are womanizers and boozers. And then there's Nick and Nora. They are one of the most fun couples I've read about. You get the impression that Nora doesn't know much about Nick's past (and really doesn't care). Nick is a good deal older than her, but she has money, so that's all that matters. They are probably the best part of this book. Overall, it is just a fun book to spend an evening with.
on December 6, 1999
My first Dashiell Hammett book and after reading it I decided I'm hooked on his writing. The plot is tight no doubt, but the ending especially left me thoroughly impressed at the skillful crafting of the story. That aside, the playful banter between Nick and Nora Charles amused, and surely the dry wit of Nick will elicit a chuckle. Add to the whole mix a bunch of crazy characters like the Wynant family who can't seem to talk straight, and you get an absorbing whodunnit with a generous dose of humour.
on November 13, 2000
Nick and Nora are delightful:brilliant,ephemeral,yet rational.They are also a couple ready for Alcoholic Anonymous (especially Nick.Too late for breakfast,never too late for a drink.) The mystery is thin,as I said,because the culprit acts from the beginning in a very suspicious and weird manner.The fact is everyone in the novel is suspicious and weird.But pay attention to a VERY suspicious particular...that is so obvious no one notices it.A very enjoyable novel,though not Hammet's best.
on July 24, 2003
The year is 1932. Nick and Nora Charles have decided to spend Christmas in New York, away from their California home and family business. Nick was a hard-drinking hard-nosed private detective before he married Nora. But Nora's family money paid for his early retirement, and now he wants nothing to do with the investigation business. One afternoon when Charles is out drinking, he runs into Dorothy Wynant, the daughter of an old client of his. She's looking for her father, an eccentric old inventor named Clyde Wynant. When the headlines splashed across the next day's newspaper say that the inventor's secretary and mistress, Julia Wolf, has been found shot to death in her apartment, a lot of people begin to wonder about Clyde Wynant's whereabouts. Mr. Wynant's lawyer, Herbert Macaulay, plies Nick for information. Clyde Wynant's ex-wife Mimi also questions Nick about her former husband. Dorothy Wynant flees her mother and step-father's apartment, and Nora invites her to stay at hers. Nick finds himself in the middle of a mystery he never wanted to know about. But when a thug forces his way into the Charles' apartment at gunpoint and the police shake Nick down for answers, he is left with no choice but to investigate the case. Nick's investigation takes him to New York's speakeasies and into its underworld, through the sordid affairs of the Wynant family, and leads to two more murders before Nick is confident he has cracked the case.
Fans of the 1934 film "The Thin Man", which starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, will likely be a bit shocked when they read Dashiell Hammett's novel on which the film was based. Although the film is excellent in its own right, the characters were altered beyond recognition to make them more palatable to a wide audience. Dashiell Hammett's novel is hard-boiled and cynical beyond words. Nick Charles is a violent drunk who married young Nora for her money so that he could spend the rest of his days sleeping and drinking and would never have to work again. Nick and Nora don't like each other very much and don't treat each other very well. The only interest they share is found in the bottom of a whisky glass. All of the characters in "The Thin Man", regardless of social status, are hardened and, in one way or another, quite depraved. There are no likable characters in this novel. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every one of them is a pathological liar and a sociopath. But "The Thin Man" is a good read. The characters, although distasteful, are well-drawn, and Hammett renders every scene vividly. The dialogue crackles with sardonic wit and is the novel's great strength. Dashiell Hammett's novels and stories were extremely popular in the 1920's and 1930's. Readers had a real taste for the blunt talk and bold-faced corruption that reflected urban culture at the time. "The Thin Man " would have fewer fans if were written today. Even if people could get past its cynicism and lack of sympathetic characters, many modern readers will be put off by the novel's abusive attitude toward women and the fact that everyone is so alcoholic that his/her ability to function and speak with any coherence at all really stretches credibility. But I recommend "The Thin Man" precisely because it isn't like modern crime novels. Dashiell Hammett's style is admirable. It won't put you in a good mood, and you may not even be sure that the mystery was solved in the end. But you'll be entertained.
on June 2, 2002
Although this was the last novel completed by Hammett, he did live for over twenty-six more years until 1961. The story introduced the dashing couple Nick and Nora Charles who in some respects resembled Hammett and his long-time companion Lillian Hellman.
If you entertain romantic notions about New York City in the 1930's, this will help you enjoy the book. However, you will have to cope with unceasing dialogue which is difficult to follow.