A while back I finished reading Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. It’s clever, catchy, entertaining, and insightful. Hammett is the genius behind the classic American sleuth story. Before the genius of Raymond Chandler there was the brilliance of Dashiell Hammett. The Thin Man is a mix of murder mystery and comedic social commentary, opening a window into the life of prohibition-era socialites living in New York City.
Nick and Nora Charles are a wealthy and glamorous couple who get caught in the middle of a murder mystery involving a millionaire, his dead secretary, his estranged ex-wife, his attention craving children, and an entourage of other lively players. Nick was a detective in earlier years, but since taking over his in-laws west coast company he turns to solving murders in between visiting speak-easies and sipping martinis at house parties.
The story is full of fabulous one-liners that comment on the social norms of the time. Each scene conjures a cinematic black and white image from the age of jazz and boos. (Many of his novels were later turned into 1930s films.) There’s a diverse group of individuals who move the story along, unfolding more intrigue and mystery with every chapter. As a reader you question the truth of every word from every character throughout the story, as they change the telling of their account several times. The reader is left in the same state as Nick and Nora – totally captivated. It’s a great read with elaborate characters and countless 1920s scenes of dancing, dinner parties, fits of hysteria, late night taxi rides, speakeasies, jazz, and the occasional shakedown.