Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Thin Man: Dashiell Hammett

Bill Pronzini is not very fond of this novel, based on his review in 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. Here is an excerpt from that review:
The Thin Man is Hammett’s last and weakest novel. By the time it was written, he had begun his affair with Lillian Hellman, been embraced and financially enriched by Hollywood, and adopted a freewheeling, alcoholic, pseudo-sophisticated life style not dissimilar to the one depicted in these pages.  He had, in short, lost touch with everything that had made his earlier work so innovative and powerful — his background as a Pinkerton detective, his contacts in the underworld, the lean years spent in a San Francisco flat painstakingly writing stories for Black Mask.
After watching the first two Thin Man movies in December, I wanted to refresh my memory of the novel. I remembered the unending night clubbing and drinking, but I did not remember the grittiness.
I found the story to be dark, but it was told with humor. If you have seen the Thin Man movie, the banter and quips in that movie show up in the book also. My last post has my comments on the movie.

Nick and Nora Charles are a well-to-do couple. They have a loving and playful relationship. Nora has inherited money; Nick manages the money (with the help of friends with more business knowledge). Nick is a former private investigator who is pulled reluctantly into an investigation into the disappearance of Clyde Wynant (the "thin man" of the title).

The family of the missing man is eccentric, to put it mildly. There is a host of other shady characters and you are never sure who is telling the truth.

I enjoyed the novel. It is the only novel I have read by Dashiell Hammett, so I cannot make comparisons to other books. I do know that this novel is less highly regarded than his other novels by some.

This exchange between Nick and Nora near the end of the novel illustrates the juxtaposition of the indulgent lifestyle with the harder side of Nick.
She laughed. "All right, all right. Still want to leave for San Francisco tomorrow?"
"Not unless you are in a hurry. Let's stick around awhile. This excitement has put us behind in our drinking."

"It’s all right by me. What do you think will happen to Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert now?”
“Nothing new. They’ll go on being Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert just as you and I will go on being us and the Quinns will go on being the Quinns. Murder doesn't round out anybody's life except the murdered's and sometimes the murderer's. ”
I hope to read one or more novels by Hammett later in the year to sample his more hard-boiled writing; specifically The Maltese Falcon or The Glass Key.

Submitted for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge (Yankee Doodle Dandy category)

15 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your review, Tracy. I haven't read a Hammett for a long time and that includes THE THIN MAN. I never know what to expect from "dark" novels and an element of humour would relieve the tension. I prefer reading the book first before watching the film adaptation though I made an exception for the Harry Potter movies. Of course, the books had far more going on.

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    1. Thanks, Prashant. I wish I had not known the story so well before reading the book, but it was different enough and I still enjoyed the experience.

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  2. Tracy - I really appreciated the humour in this novel too. I also like the fact that although this is 'hardboiled' in some ways, it's not completely, hopelessly bleak. There's enough optimism here that the reader doesn't feel completely dragged down if I can put it that way. I also love the relationship between Nick and Nora Charles. Thanks for the reminder and the excellent review.

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    1. Margot, I too liked the fact that this blended hard-boiled with a lighter tone. I am not sure how I am going to like the other ones by Hammett, but I definitely want to try them out.

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  3. If this is one of his weaker ones I look forward to reading some of his other books (which I have waiting on my shelves). I too read this one after many, many viewings of the films and found it to be fun and gritty in the right mix.

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    1. I definitely want to read Maltese Falcon but it may be too hard-boiled for me. But the fact that I can compare it to the movie will help.

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  4. The only book I have read of Hammett is The Maltese Falcon and that was pretty good. I'd like to read more of him.

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    1. Glad to hear that you liked The Maltese Falcon. I haven't read much hard-boiled fiction, but I definitely want to try that one.

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  5. This is definitely on my list for this year. I read The Maltese Falcon last year and really enjoyed, even if it wasn't quite what I expectd.

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  6. The Maltese Falcon is terrific (and this from someone who definitely does NOT like hardboiled mysteries in general). If you've seen the movie, then you're in for a treat--so much of the dialogue went straight into the movie. There are enough differences between the movie and the book to make the read surprising in parts--but in a good way.

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    1. I am glad to hear that because I was wondering how I would like it. I think it will be fun to recognize the dialogue from the movie.

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  7. I lovet his book, but love all of the movies even more.

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    1. I love the movies too. My husband is not too thrilled about going past the 2nd one (as far as re-watching). We have watched all of them once.

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  8. I'm very late commenting on this, but I highly reccomend Hammett's short stories. I'be read both The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon and I think the stories are even better.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth, and thanks for the recommendation. I still haven't read the Maltese Falcon but will in 2015. And try some of the short stories too, I hope.

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