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The Thin Man Paperback – July 17, 1989
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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
Top Customer Reviews
DO NOT buy the Kindle edition of The Thin Man. Reading this cheap Kindle version is like walking a path that ought to have been cleared through the jungle for us but turns out instead to be overgrown with vines. Several other one-star reviewers are exactly right about this but maybe they're not adamant enough. Not only does Nora's name appear here as "Nona," it also appears as "Noma." More than half of the paragraph returns are missing, so, for instance, chapter numbers appear on the same line as text; and dialogue is often very difficult to follow, as each single paragraph might contain words being spoken by more than one character, so the reader must be constantly on guard to catch every last quotation mark. This is especially trying when so many of the conversations consist of rather rapid-fire interrogations. Only a few of the first lines of paragraphs are indented; most are left-justified instead. Here are more word-glitches from just the first 1/4 of this book (and by no means is this list complete): the word "people" does indeed appear here as "pea-pie." The word "hello" is printed as "FIello." We get "in ease" instead of "in case." The word "He" appears as "Fle" and "his" is written as "Ins.Read more ›
Ned Beaumont, a self-described "amateur detective" with an independent streak and a gambling habit, is the loyal underling to shadowy political boss Paul Madvig, whose major concern is to see his candidate, Taylor Henry, reelected to the Senate. When the Senator's son is murdered alongside a dimly lit street, Madvig is the chief suspect, the papers (controlled by the opposition) go on the attack, and Beaumont intervenes with an attempt to clear his boss's name. While not above resorting to ethically dubious behavior, Beaumont retains a vein of rectitude under his tough-guy exterior, and he's even willing to undergo the most brutal thrashings at the hands of the criminal opposition out of loyalty to his own superiors--as long as they themselves don't cross the line.
His fourth novel in three years (1929-1931), "The Glass Key" is bleaker and more cynical than its predecessors, and the mood spirals further downward as the story unfolds. (One can almost imagine Hammett's brooding temper darkening with each stiff drink.) While most of his fiction deals with the underworld and its corruption and squalidness, this work shows most effectively the seedy alliances among businessmen, political bosses, elected officials, law enforcement, media figures, and organized crime in Prohibition-era America.
Hammett did not write a novel about a sophisticated couple who genteelly solve a murder while pouring cocktails and trading quips. He wrote a dark novel about an ex-detective who has married a wildly wealthy woman, and wants to spend the rest of his life managing her money. He is only faintly connected to the murders, having known the victim and his family briefly several years before, and wants nothing to do with the whole business. He is continually dragged in, however, and very nearly becomes a victim himself. Even a cursory reading of the novel should demonstrate that Hammett was up to much more than a series of one-liners with detective interruptions. Why else would Hammett, one of the most economical of authors, bring the novel to a halt to include a case history of Alfred Packer, the only American convicted of the crime of cannibalism?
There is much more here than Hollywood, or anyone else that I know of, has yet realized.
There is so much going on in this book that most people miss much of it the first time (as these reviews show), especially if they don't know Hammett's life. As noted, Hammett modeled Nick and Nora on himself and his paramour, budding playwright Lillian Hellman, so it's interesting to see how he dealt in fiction with their relationship and his ultimate failure to cope with success.
Yet, "The Thin Man" works - and works well - as a straight, hard-boiled detective novel, too (which is why none of the characters are particularly likeable). Also, Nora, one of the few, strong female detectives of the pulp magazine era, has inspired countless woman (including Myrna Loy) through the decades.
Hammett's sparse style of writing, which many critics (including myself) think Hemingway merely popularized, revolutionized American literature. Each of Hammett's words had to do its part. Similarly, unlike those of earlier detective novels, Hammett's characters committed murder and other mayhem for actual reasons! The notion greatly affected Chandler, Macdonald, and all the others who toiled in the garden Hammett created. His books are all classics of American literature.
Some of these reviewers have made too much of the "alcoholism" in the book. Fact is, a certain, large segment of society in the `30s - products of Prohibition - did (or wanted to) drink the way the book's characters do and thought nothing of it. Basically, everybody drank in those days. Even the President of the United States had a bootlegger.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Don't go into this one with the picture of Dick Powell and Myrna Loy from the old movies. Think Bogart/Maltese Falcon, and you'll understand Nick much better. As for Nora? Read morePublished 4 months ago by James W. Miller
Interesting novel. First one I've read in this type of genre. It was kind of hard to follow at first but after a few chapters, I got used to all of the characters and the way in... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
It is rare that we get exactly what we expect to get in our reading experience – and sometimes we get a lot more. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Garrett Zecker
Dashiell Hammett's classic tale of the sleuthing couple in New York City's golden age. Hammett at his best.Published 5 months ago by G. Carlson
The script that was written for the movie was much more entertaining than the book. Don't really think that anyone could drink as much as Nick Charles and function except maybe WC... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Karl M. Fromberg
I realized recently that I had never read and Hammet and I started with the Maltese Falcon. I don't know of a modern writer who is able to capture the era while providing dialogue... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Glenn Quaint