179 pages @350 wds/pg
I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.
"Let's stick around awhile. This excitement has put us behind in our drinking."
If you've read or heard about Hammett's hardboiled detective fiction, you may not be prepared for what you'll find in The Thin Man.
Sure, there's a somewhat jaded private eye, one Nick Charles, as well as a perplexing murder to solve, incompetent cops and shady underworld characters. But there is also a wife, the unflappable Nora Charles. And there is genuine attachment between wife and husband.
Nick Charles has married into high society with Nora—or at least higher than the lowlifes he previously mingled with. And he's quite content with his new status. And Nora is quite content, even intrigued, with her hubby's nefarious occupation and his familiarity with the criminal classes. The couple keep the martinis and the affectionate witticisms coming as he works his way through the mystery. It's a charming concept that has been much imitated over the years, at the highest level by Robert B. Parker with his Spenser novels and at the lowest level by the Hart to Hart television series.
But lest it appear Hammett has betrayed the hardboiled detective tradition—which he himself had only recently invented—note that his spartan, no-frills writing style is still intact. The story still has a hard edge which is only enhanced by the development of the loving human beings involved at the centre.
The movie version of The Thin Man is also highly recommended. But however delightful the movies are, you have to read the original novel to see what an amazing writer Hammett was and what his accomplishment was in this particular book. One of the best-written, intelligent works of the private eye genre.