Tuesday, 12 September 2000

Dashiell Hammett: The Thin Man (1935)

Edition: Avenel Books, 1980
Review number: 613

The last of Dashiell Hammett's five novels, The Thin Man is rather different from the others. Its hero is a slightly older, married version of Sam Spade or Ned Beaumont; Nick Charles has had some of his faith in humanity restored by his wife, Nora. He has even given up being a private detective, as Hammett was about to give up novel writing - and the novel is dedicated to the woman he himself married, Lilian Hellman.

One of Charles' past jobs was for an eccentric inventor, investigating threats from another man who thought that his ideas had been stolen. When the inventor's secretary is murdered, everyone assumes that Charles will investigate, including the police. Nora encourages him to do so, because she wants to see what he's like as a private eye.

Having an unwilling sleuth is an unusual twist, and the resulting novel is Hammett's most subtle. Charles goes beyond the tough guy poses of the earlier Hammett detectives: he has grown up.

No comments: