January 30, 2005

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett

Craig Clarke reviewed this book in Ex Libris Reviews last month, causing me to reflect. I reflected that although I'd heard of Nick and Nora Charles, I'd never read a book or seen a movie in which they appeared. I reflected that although I'd heard of Dashiell Hammett, I'd never read anything by him. And I reflected that I'd been completely unaware that Hammett was responsible for Nick and Nora Charles, having associated him with mean streets and gumshoes and Humphrey Bogart. Clearly this was something to look into, and so I procured a copy of The Thin Man forthwith. And I read it.

And I enjoyed it.

But good grief, fish don't drink as much as these folks. It's like some witty, urbane game of quarters. You get home from the theater: take a drink. Some one comes to your hotel room: Take a drink. Your visitor takes a drink: take a drink. You get up in the morning: take a drink. Someone gets murdered: take a drink. Go out to a speakeasy patronized by underworld types: take a drink for each one. But sip them slowly, because the speakeasy's liquor is lousy. You're feeling a little tight: take a drink. You're not feeling tight enough: take a drink. Make a witty non-answer to an impertinent question: take a drink. Hear yet another all-too-plausible tale from Mimi Jorgenson that you don't believe: take two drinks.

It's all well-written, mind you; and it's fascinating to watch Nick's behavior change as he gets drunk. He doesn't get loud angry drunk; he doesn't slur his words or get sentimental, or any of the other cliched drunken behaviors; but there's a definite sense that the inhibitions are lifting, that he's not watching himself so carefully, that he might be saying a little more, saying it just a little louder, that he might not care quite as much about consequences.

The other characterizations are good, too. I especially enjoyed disliking Mimi Jorgenson, one of the most poisonous, duplicitous female characters I've ever come across. The only character I can compare her too is the lady in the movie The Maltese Falcon. Go figure.

Some time I'm going to have to re-read this to figure out just how Hammett did it.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 30, 2005 06:01 PM

Craig Clarke said:

I'm glad you enjoyed it. The movies add the chemistry of William Powell and Myrna Loy to the mix. There are six films in the series, steadily decreasing in quality, but they are all charming and worth one viewing, at least.