Book Review: Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man

Posted June 27, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man

The Thin Man


on July 17, 1989 and has 201 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.
four-stars

The only Hammett-written story in the Thin Man series.

The Thin Man was nominated in 1934 for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

My Take

I’ve always loved the Thin Man movies so I thought I’d try out the book.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m giving this a “4” because the story is that well written or if I’m simply too attached to the Thin Man movies. I’ve seen the flicks so many times and am thoroughly enthralled with Nick and Nora Charles — I couldn’t help but hear Myrna Loy speaking some of these lines and seeing William Powell as Nick.

Per usual, the story is much richer — and quite different in almost everything — from the movie. I’m also annoyed as I had read (on the Internet, so you know how trustworthy that is!) that Hammett’s Thin Man only had a touch of Nick and Nora, that the story wasn’t about them. Wrong.

This is all Nick and Nora, only not as obviously funny as the film. In fact, Hammett’s version is darker, and I’d be curious to know if he was drawing on the Hollywood types with whom he socialized. The book goes deeper into the peripheral characters: Mimi is not someone you’d want to meet in an alley, day or night; Dorothy is not the sweetheart we meet in the movies; and, Gil is definitely an odd duck, not as ridiculously outré as the movie portrays him, and I have my suspicions about his relationship with his sister.

It’s almost a Keystone Kops of Wynants rushing in and out of the Charles’ apartment, leaving lies in their wake — Mimi can’t seem to wake up without trying to seduce people, and she’s always working the angle. From any direction. I do love how evasive Nick is, how much he tries to not get involved. But people — and Nora — will have their way.

Nick is Greek — his last name, Charalambides, was changed at Ellis Island when his old man came through, and Immigration decided it was too long to write out.

It’s so very 1930s with the language and the speakeasies and drinking. I couldn’t help thinking of email, cellphones, and iPods as I read about radios big enough to be furniture, putting a record on, calls being routed through an operator, and telegrams and letters.

I don’t understand why Hammett included the Alfred Packer story.

It’s spare in its language and descriptions with a cynical look at relationships. And yeah, I’d kill to have another Thin Man to read…

The Story

It’s a sudden mash of people hunting down Clyde Wynant: his wife, his daughter, his lawyer, the cops. And Nick is dragged into it all, kicking and protesting, smothering under a nest of lies.

The Characters

The film Nick and Nora Charles are very similar to the original characters. He’s a former detective with the Trans-American Detective Agency in NYC, jaded, and obsessed with his drinks, while she’s fascinated by detective work, pushing him into taking this case on. Asta is there, paws up.

Herbert Macaulay is Wynant’s lawyer and a former Army buddy of Nick’s. Dorothy Wynant is the wayward daughter who’s got more twitches and ways of avoiding truth than you can shake a stick at; Gilbert is the son fascinated by the odd who experiments on himself to discover how pain feels, how addictive morphine is, etc.; and, neither of them have seen their father in years. Mimi Jorgensen is the nasty mamma with a vicious temper and absolutely no acquaintance with the concept of truth. She’s married to a man she met in Paris, Chris Jorgensen. There’s an Alice Wynant, Clyde’s sister, but we never do meet her.

Julia Wolf, a.k.a., Nancy Kane, is Wynant’s secretary/lover. She also has a history of working cons with Face Peppler and others.

Lieutenant John Guild is the cop in charge of the murder (no, he’s not the smarmy jerk in the film); Andy and Flint are some of his men. Art Nunheim is a snitch for the cops and an eye for the ladies. An interest in which his girlfriend, Miriam (Marian in the film), takes an exception.

Nick and Nora’s NYC friends and acquaintances
Larry Crowley; Harrison and Alice Quinn — he’s a broker who doesn’t appear to like his wife; and, Halsey Edge, an archeologist with a fascination for axes and a tedious wife, Leda whom Edge calls Tip, and whom everyone else calls the gnome.

Studsy Burke got out of the pen and has a joint, the Pigiron, over on West Forty-ninth. Shep (Joe in the film) Morelli is thought to be Julia’s lover. Victor Rosewater (Rosebury in the film) worked with Wynant and they split over a betrayal with Rosewater spouting threats of all sorts. Olga Fenton is a friend of Rosewater’s wife, Gloria.

The Cover and Title

The cover is two people who are visible only between chest and nose. He’s in a black overcoat and white scarf, wearing grey-blue driving gloves as he lights up a cigarette while she and her bobbed red hair is nonchalant in a bright red chair, wearing black and lace and drop earrings with her hand propping up her chin, the better to show off that wedding ring. There’s a band of dull gold separating the two, showing off the author’s name and the title.

The title is Wynant, The Thin Man, an inventor who’s somewhat mad and has disappeared.

four-stars

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