The Thin Man (Dashiell Hammett)

bookThis 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. 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.

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, preferably laced with bootleg liquor. 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 do the police want him: ex-wife Mimi is low on funds and would like to lay hands on his dough.

Plus 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 than usual, 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 is clearly en route to an alcoholic hell and pulling Nora along with him. This novel seems to be a variation on Hammett’s detective stories, using “politics” as the “root of evil”. But there is a relationship between political power and the love of money. This book shows government functioning as a feudal system: a ruler accepts loyalty from his subjects, and in turn helps and supports them. But the ruler may accept an election loss if that will punish disloyalty and keep his personal power.

Could a blue-blooded aristocratic politician sacrifice his son, pimp his daughter, and attempt murder to keep political power? You can judge how this novel approximates the real world. 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 keep reader interest. Recommended for fans of the classic “hard-boiled” style, but probably of more interest to hard-core completists than casual readers.




  1. Loving the picture of that dame in the red dress.


  2. I thought the book cover needed (and my review) a bit of sex appeal…


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