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The Thin Man [Paperback]

Dashiell Hammett
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett's classic tale of murder in Manhattan, became the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and both the movies and the novel continue to captivate new generations of fans.

Nick and Nora Charles, accompanied by their schnauzer, Asta, are lounging in their suite at the Normandie in New York City for the Christmas holiday, enjoying the prerogatives of wealth: meals delivered at any hour, theater openings, taxi rides at dawn, rubbing elbows with the gangster element in speakeasies. They should be annoyingly affected, but they charm. Mad about each other, sardonic, observant, kind to those in need, and cool in a fight, Nick and Nora are graceful together, and their home life provides a sanctuary from the rough world of gangsters, hoodlums, and police investigations into which Nick is immediately plunged.

A lawyer-friend asks Nick to help find a killer and reintroduces him to the family of Richard Wynant, a more-than-eccentric inventor who disappeared from society 10 years before. His former wife, the lush and manipulative Mimi, has remarried a European fortune hunter who turns out to be a vindictive former associate of her first husband and is bent on the ruin of Wynant's family fortune. Wynant's children, Dorothy and Gilbert, seem to have inherited the family aversion to straight talk. Dorothy, who has matured into a beautiful young woman, has a crush on Nick, and so, in a hero-worshipping way, does mama's boy Gilbert. Nick and Nora respond kindly to their neediness as Nick tries to make sense of misinformation, false identities, far-fetched alibis, and, at the center of the confusion, the mystery of The Thin Man, Richard Wynant. Is he mad? Is he a killer? Or is he really an eccentric inventor protecting his discovery from intellectual theft?

The dialogue is spare, the locales lively, and Nick, the narrator, shows us the players as they are, while giving away little of his own thoughts. No one is telling the whole truth, but Nick remains mostly patient as he doggedly tries to backtrack the lies. Hammett's New York is a cross between Damon Runyon and Scott Fitzgerald--more glamorous than real, but compelling when visited in the company of these two charmers. The lives of the rich and famous don't get any better than this! --Barbara Schlieper

Review

Harsh lights and romantic black shadows: this is the heyday of American crime writing Guardian The ace performer Raymond Chandler --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

Nick and Nora Charles are Hammett's most enchanting creations, a rich, glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.

About the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1 I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me. She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes, the result was satisfactory. "Aren't you Nick Charles?" she asked. I said: "Yes." She held out her hand. "I'm Dorothy Wynant. You don't remember me, but you ought to remember my father, Clyde Wynant. You--" "Sure," I said, "and I remember you now, but you were only a kid of eleven or twelve then, weren't you?" "Yes, that was eight years ago. Listen: remember those stories you told me? Were they true?" "Probably not. How is your father?" She laughed. "I was going to ask you. Mamma divorced him, you know, and we never hear from him--except when he gets in the newspapers now and then with some of his carryings on. Don't you ever see him?" My glass was empty. I asked her what she would have to drink, she said Scotch and soda. I ordered two of them and said: "No, I've been living in San Francisco." She said slowly: "I'd like to see him. Mamma would raise hell if she found it out, but I'd like to see him." "Well?" "He's not where we used to live, on Riverside Drive, and he's not in the phone book or city directory." "Try his lawyer," I suggested. Her face brightened. "Who is he?" "It used to be a fellow named Mac-something-or-other--Macaulay, that's it, Herbert Macaulay. He was in the Singer Building." "Lend me a nickel," she said, and went out to the telephone. She came back smiling. "I found him. He's just round the corner on Fifth Avenue." "Your father?" "The lawyer. He says my father's out of town. I'm going round to see him." She raised her glass to me. "Family reunions. Look, why don't--" Asta jumped up and punched me in the belly with her front feet. Nora, at the end of the leash, said: "She's had a swell afternoon--knocked over a table of toys at Lord & Taylor's, scared a fat woman silly by licking her leg in Saks's, and's been patted by three policemen." I made introductions. "My wife, Dorothy Wynant. Her father was once a client of mine, when she was only so high. A good guy, but screwy." "I was fascinated by him," Dorothy said, meaning me, "a real live detective, and used to follow him around making him tell me about his experiences. He told me awful lies, but I believed every word." I said: "You look tired, Nora." "I am. Let's sit down." Dorothy Wynant said she had to go back to her table. She shook hands with Nora; we must drop in for cocktails, they were living at Courtland, her mother's name was Jorgensen now. We would be glad to and she must come see us some time, we were at the Normandie and would be in New York for another week or two. Dorothy patted the dog's head and left us. We found a table. Nora said: "She's pretty." "If you like them like that." She grinned at me. "You got types?" "Only you, darling--lanky brunettes with wicked jaws." "And how about the red-head you wandered off with at the Quinns' last night?" "That's silly," I said. "She just wanted to show me some French etchings." 2 The next day Herbert Macaulay telephoned me. "Hello, I didn't know you were back in town till Dorothy Wynant told me. How about lunch?" "What time is it?" "Half past eleven. Did I wake you up?" "Yes," I said, "but that's all right. Suppose you come up here for lunch: I've got a hangover and don't feel like running around much. . . . O.K., say one o'clock." I had a drink with Nora, who was going out to have her hair washed, then another after a shower, and was feeling better by the time the telephone rang again. A female voice asked: "Is Mr. Macaulay there?" "Not yet." "Sorry to trouble you, but would you mind asking him to call his office as soon as he gets there? It's important." I promised to do that. Macaulay arrived about ten minutes later. He was a big curly-haired, rosy-cheeked, rather good-looking chap of about my age--forty-one--though he looked younger. He was supposed to be a pretty good lawyer. I had worked on several jobs for him when I was living in New York and we had always got along nicely. Now we shook hands and patted each other's backs, and he asked me how the world was treating me, and I said, "Fine," and asked him and he said, "Fine," and I told him to call his office. He came away from the telephone frowning. "Wynant's back in town," he said, "and wants me to meet him." I turned around with the drinks I had poured. "Well, the lunch can--" "Let him wait," he said, and took one of the glasses from me. "Still as screwy as ever?" "That's no joke," Macaulay said solemnly. "You heard they had him in a sanatorium for nearly a year back in '29?" "No." He nodded. He sat down, put his glass on a table beside his chair, and leaned towards me a little. "What's Mimi up to, Charles?" "Mimi? Oh, the wife--the ex-wife. I don't know. Does she have to be up to something?" "She usually is," he said dryly, and then very slowly, "and I thought you'd know." So that was it. I said: "Listen, Mac, I haven't been a detective for six years, since 1927." He stared at me. "On the level," I assured him, "a year after I got married, my wife's father died and left her a lumber mill and a narrow-gauge railroad and some other things and I quit the Agency to look after them. Anyway I wouldn't be working for Mimi Wynant, or Jorgensen, or whatever her name is--she never liked me and I never liked her." "Oh, I didn't think you--" Macaulay broke off with a vague gesture and picked up his glass. When he took it away from his mouth, he said: "I was just wondering. Here Mimi phones me three days ago--Tuesday--trying to find Wynant; then yesterday Dorothy phones, saying you told her to, and comes around, and--I thought you were still sleuthing, so I was wondering what it was all about." "Didn't they tell you?" "Sure--they wanted to see him for old times' sake. That means a lot." "You lawyers are a suspicious crew," I said. "Maybe they did--that and money. But what's the fuss about? Is he in hiding?" Macaulay shrugged. "You know as much about it as I do. I haven't seen him since October." He drank again. "How long are you going to be in town?" "Till after New Year's," I told him and went to the telephone to ask room service for menus. 3 Nora and I went to the opening of Honeymoon at the Little Theatre that night and then to a party given by some people named Freeman or Fielding or something. I felt pretty low when she called me the next morning. She gave me a newspaper and a cup of coffee and said: "Read that." I patiently read a paragraph or two, then put the paper down and took a sip of coffee. "Fun's fun," I said, "but right now I'd swap you all the interviews with Mayor-elect O'Brien ever printed--and throw in the Indian picture--for a slug of whis--" "Not that, stupid." She put a finger on the paper. "That." INVENTOR'S SECRETARY MURDERED IN APARTMENT Julia Wolf's bullet-riddled body found; Police seek her employer, Clyde Wynant The bullet-riddled body of Julia Wolf, thirty-two-year old confidential secretary to Clyde Miller Wynant, well-known inventor, was discovered late yesterday afternoon in the dead woman's apartment at 411 East Fifty-fourth St. by Mrs. Christian Jorgensen, divorced wife of the inventor, who had gone there in an attempt to learn her former husband's present address. Mrs. Jorgensen, who returned Monday after a six-year stay in Europe, told police that she heard feeble groans when she rang the murdered woman's door-bell, whereupon she notified an elevator boy, Mervin Holly, who called Walter Meany, apartment-house superintendent. Miss Wolf was lying on the bedroom floor with four .32-caliber bullet-wounds in her chest when they entered the apartment, and died without having recovered consciousness before police and medical aid arrived. Herbert Macaulay, Wynant's attorney, told the police that he had not seen the inventor since October. He stated that Wynant called him on the telephone yesterday and made an appointment, but failed to keep it; and disclaimed any knowledge of his client's whereabouts. Miss Wolf, Macaulay stated, had been in the inventor's employ for the past eight years. The attorney said he knew nothing about the dead woman's family or private affairs and could throw no light on her murder. The bullet-wounds could not have been self-inflicted, according to . . . The rest of it was the usual police department handout. "Do you suppose he killed her?" Nora asked when I put the paper down again. "Wynant? I wouldn't be surprised. He's batty as hell." "Did you know her?" "Yes. How about a drop of something to cut the phlegm?" "What was she like?" "Not bad," I said. "She wasn't bad-looking and she had a lot of sense and a lot of nerve--and it took both to live with that guy." "She lived with him?" "Yes. I want a drink, please. That is, it was like that when I knew them." "Why don't you have some breakfast first? Was she in love with him or was it just business?" "I don't know. It's too early for breakfast." When Nora opened the door to go out, the dog came in and put her front feet on the bed, her face in ...

From AudioFile

Hammett was the quintessential tough-guy writer of 1930s' noir. It's interesting to see how he holds up after all these years; you'll be astounded at how much Nick and Nora Charles drink, for starters. Welcome though it is, this is a less than perfect production. Narrator William Dufris, who normally is in tune with his characters, misses the mark here. The women, even suave, ironic Nora, all sound hysterical and whiny even when they're supposed to be seductive or charming, which makes it hard to tell why anyone puts up with them. This does not help the rather creaky plot, nor do the forced tough-guy male voices, which sound so alike that it's often hard to know which character is talking. No shades of William Powell and Myrna Loy here, alas. B.G. © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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