RSS

DASHIELL HAMMETT. The Thin Man (1934).

18 Dec

This last of Hammett’s five novels partakes of an old myth—that of the retired hero forced back into action by the flowering of an evil that only he can stamp out. The hero is Nick Charles, a onetime private detective who has escaped the fleshpots of New York and now manages his wife’s fortune in the Golden West. The evil involves the disappearance of a former client of his, a wealthy inventor named Clyde Wynant, and the murder of Julia Wolf, Wynant’s assistant-cum-mistress. ThinMan.jpgCharles, who’s back in New York on a short trip with his wife, Nora, finds time amid a regimen of cocktails and wisecracks to interview suspects and to spot the killer among them. He is a reluctant hero; Nora, who craves adventure, has to goad him into taking on the case. But he demonstrates that he hasn’t gone soft, after all, and he puts the world aright.

Or does he? Hammett tries to marry two genres, each of which marks a departure from his earlier work: the traditional whodunit, complete with clues and suspects, and the sophisticated comedy of manners. And in that attempt, he doesn’t quite succeed. His outlook was ultimately too grim for either genre—too nihilistic, too full of moral despair. Unlike his prose, his view of what motivates people wasn’t in any way clean. (The classic movie version of the novel, by contrast, succeeds winningly. In the translation of the story to the silver screen, the plot becomes at once leaner and more clever, and each character takes on the safe outlines of a satiric type.) Beneath its glossy finish, The Thin Man anticipates the seedy fictive world of Raymond Chandler: It contains intimations of incest, and it hums with contempt for a moneyed class that the author depicts as being indistinguishable from a class of criminals. These are evils that a hero might subdue but that he is powerless to dispel.

Advertisements
 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 18, 2013 in American, Golden Age, Hard-Boiled, Novel, Puzzle

 

3 responses to “DASHIELL HAMMETT. The Thin Man (1934).

  1. Cavershamragu

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 AM

    Fair enough Mike – I do like this book though i understand why some Hammett fans (including Robert B Parker) thought it a mistake (albeit a lucrative one).

     
    • Mike

      December 20, 2013 at 8:38 AM

      Hi, Sergio. Yet again, I’ve written a review that says much more about what I *thought* of a book than about whether I liked it. I did like it, and indeed I’d now probably say that it makes a major contribution to the genre. But when I read it, I was struck above all else by different it was from the film version that I dearly love.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        December 20, 2013 at 9:27 AM

        One of my favourite Christmas movies in fact :)

         

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: