Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon May 3, 2012 - 12:40pm

'The Thin Man' by Dashiell Hammett

Discussion has officially started!

Synopsis: The story is set in Prohibition-era New York City. The main characters are a former private detective, Nick Charles, and his clever young wife, Nora. Nick, son of a Greek immigrant, has given up his career since marrying Nora, a wealthy socialite, and he now spends most of his time cheerfully getting drunk in hotel rooms and speakeasies. Nick and Nora have no children, but they do own a Schnauzer named Asta.

Charles is drawn, mostly against his will, into investigating a murder. The case brings them in contact with a rather grotesque family, the Wynants, and also with an assortment of policemen and lowlifes. As they attempt to solve the case, Nick and Nora share a great deal of banter and witty dialogue, along with copious amounts of alcohol. The characters of Nick and Nora are often thought to reflect the personalities of Hammett and his long-time lover, Lillian Hellman. (from wikipedia)

About the Author: Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America.

 

Discussion has officially started!

This is one of my favorite books. I've been meaning to reread it for a while now, so I'm pretty excited about this discussion.

I also just read that Johnny Depp will be playing Nick in the remake that they are / will be filming. Anybody know anything about this?

Buy it from Amazon

Get to reading!

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner May 3, 2012 - 6:40pm

Brilliant. Can't wait for this one!

Mike Mckay's picture
Mike Mckay is reading God's Ashtray May 3, 2012 - 7:49pm

Haven't read any detective novels yet so this may be my first.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. May 4, 2012 - 1:26am

I'm happy with this choice. But then, I'd have been happy with any of the options really.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon May 4, 2012 - 4:37am

I feel the same way Martin. I'm excited it got picked, but really Dakota and I came up with some great books. Anything on there I would have been excited about.

.'s picture
. May 4, 2012 - 10:16am

Nice taste guys. (You guys taste good)

I'm surprised 1984 didn't make the cut though.

Buy the book. Read it. Discuss. Or I'll go Tony Soprano on everyone. 

*smiley face*

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 4, 2012 - 1:09pm

1984 - isn't that the one where IBM gets pwned by a supermodel and then Van Halen comes in and rocksthefuckout all over the Sarajevo Olympics?

.'s picture
. May 4, 2012 - 4:07pm

Spoiler Alert ^

NikKorpon's picture
NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and May 5, 2012 - 8:26am

Excellent choice. Can't wait.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day May 6, 2012 - 4:53pm

Just read it this weekend - looking forward to next month's discussion!

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner May 8, 2012 - 3:50am

I know it's probably sacrilegious to suggest this, but - being a manic film buff myself - I also recommend people watch the 1934 movie, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora. I love the thing. Just not the sequels...

 

Ludwig Neveu's picture
Ludwig Neveu May 8, 2012 - 12:48pm

It took a book like this one to make me join up.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon May 8, 2012 - 12:55pm

Not sacrilegious! I think we should all watch the movie too. It might make for a more interesting discussion.

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz May 8, 2012 - 1:32pm

Looks like another good one - I reckon I should go for the Turkey - three consecutive book club participations in a row.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner May 15, 2012 - 12:05pm

On ya, Pete! ;)

lizzbby's picture
lizzbby from NEW JERSEY is reading ALICE IN WONDERLAND, HUNGER GAMES,WALLY LAMB AND THE WOMEN OF YORK CORRECTIONAL INST. AND THE LAST LECTURE May 18, 2012 - 4:15am

Look forward to the read and share of this story. I also love the movie version starring William Powell and Myrna Loy

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. May 27, 2012 - 5:24am

I just bought this, but it isn't going to be delivered until around june 8th apparently.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer May 27, 2012 - 6:59pm

Good timing. I have been planning a novel written in this style. It will be a good read right now.

.'s picture
. May 30, 2012 - 9:01am

Can we pre-discuss little things?

Nora seems like a strange character in the way she responds to Nick's arrogance. 

I'll watch the movie too to get an idea of her.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon May 30, 2012 - 7:01pm

Go ahead and mention some things. Discussion "officially" starts tomorrow. I have some stuff I'm trying to hold onto until then.

edit - I lied. Discussion officially starts on the 1st as usual... I didn't realize this month has a 31st.

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz May 30, 2012 - 9:47am

I'm waaaaaaaayyyyyyy behind. Like the kind of behind that the book is still sitting there in the package from amazon type behind. 

But I'll get to it, dammit! I know we have all month to discuss.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner May 31, 2012 - 2:59am

Itching for this. Bring on the 'morrow! ;)

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer May 31, 2012 - 1:36pm

Got it from the library last night. It seems like a quick read.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 1, 2012 - 4:41am

Discussion offically starts today. Can't wait to see what everybody has to say about this one.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 1, 2012 - 4:46am

Damn, I thought I had my copy on the shelf, ready to re-read from today, but I can't locate the bugger... ack. Still, I'm pretty sure I recall enough from the other 2 reads to be of some vague use here, till I replace it!

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 1, 2012 - 5:06am

I was hoping that I could watch The Thin Man on youtube or netflix streaming... no luck! But I moved it to the number 1 position in my netflix queue, so next time they send me movies, I'll be getting that.

I've never seen the movie, so I can't wait to see how they adapted it.

In my mind though, it's written almost like a movie from the 50's anyway. Only 3 real settings. All other places in the story are only talked about. Most of what pushes the story forward is straight dialogue while sitting around drinking. So, yeah, can't wait to get the movie and see how similar they are.

.'s picture
. June 1, 2012 - 12:21pm

Pete, you could try demonoid or piratebay to get the movie. 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 1, 2012 - 1:00pm

That's why I pay for netflix! :p

But, yeah, I've done that before. I've been a little freaked out after Mr. Dotcom got arrested and MegaUpload got shut down.

.'s picture
. June 1, 2012 - 2:52pm

Thats the great thing about demonoid, you have to have an invitation code to join so no feds or viruses. ;)

I hate netflix, or more or less the geeks that scratch up the blu-rays so I have to keep sending them back. I'm the only to report broken disks I think. 

Well I'll be finishing The Thin Man tonight and read some cliff notes. 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 1, 2012 - 3:11pm

I actually got 3 copies of The Howling. Every copy I got was broken the same way (the disc was dual layer and actually splitting in half). So after all that headache, I hated the movie (I had never seen in before). But really, that's the only problem I've had. I've had one broken disc before that, but it was a long time ago.

Ludwig Neveu's picture
Ludwig Neveu June 2, 2012 - 12:45am

So this is where you post to take part of the discussion ? Sorry for the dumb question, just starting here.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 2, 2012 - 8:15am

Yes, post all your thoughts here Ludwig! :)

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 3, 2012 - 8:38am

The way dialogue was used was very cool. I think even a majority of the physical description came from what people were telling each other. It was also a really quick read. Short and sweet. Loved the twist at the end, too.

.'s picture
. June 3, 2012 - 5:19pm

I loved how the back story on the characters was mentioned through dialogue as well. 

 

 

=========Minor Spoiler==============

Like how it was revealed that Nick and Maculay were in the war together. 

lizzbby's picture
lizzbby from NEW JERSEY is reading ALICE IN WONDERLAND, HUNGER GAMES,WALLY LAMB AND THE WOMEN OF YORK CORRECTIONAL INST. AND THE LAST LECTURE June 3, 2012 - 7:19pm

so far.......the book and the movie are very close

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 4, 2012 - 3:01am

Nick and Nora Charles are for me perhaps the most iconic fictional couple out there - for dialogue, booze and... I don't know... pizzazz? I dug William Powell and Myrna Loy's take in the first movie when I saw it in high school, and since then the text in Hammett's novel just snares me. Yep, it's short, and there's a very cool twist - but what is in there, the substance that holds it all together, is sensational.

That said, I still think The Maltese Falcon is better.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 4, 2012 - 8:49am

@jacks, what was also awesome is how many of those little minor comments that mean nothing at the time other than provide backstory pay off later in some way.

Such as your spoiler and the climax when Nick figures it all out.

Walden's picture
Walden from Modesto, CA is reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle June 4, 2012 - 9:47am

Does anyone have an opinion on the cut-off dialogue that continued throughout the story? "Well that's nonsense, I was merely-"... Then someone interrupts what he was saying. I suppose that sort of dialogue was common for that era?

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 4, 2012 - 10:12am

I actually liked it. That's the way real conversations happen a lot of the time. In a dialogue-driven story, it is important for the dialogue to ring true.

Walden's picture
Walden from Modesto, CA is reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle June 4, 2012 - 10:44am

Couldn't agree more, Jack.

.'s picture
. June 4, 2012 - 11:04am

{[Hey guys, Pete will be absent this week from the discussion due to a family situation so I'm helping him lead this thing while he's gone.]}

 

I found Nick to be a little sexist. And it seemed to be an open ended joke when he tells Nora that he "married her for her money." Like maybe there is some serious undertones to it. Also it seems to be a recurring thing in the novel through other character's dialogue. 

 

Ludwig Neveu's picture
Ludwig Neveu June 4, 2012 - 11:52am

I am not a historian of the romantic comedy genre, but I would not be surprised if The Thin Man was one of the very first examples of a formula that lated thrived transposed in cinema starting with Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder.

While The Maltese Falcon created a mythical type of detective story and The Glass Key is in my opinion Hammett's most profound and enigmatic novel, The Thin Man was his biggest success in book sales.

It has quite a few autobiographical aspects : Hammett was a Pinkerton detective before his failing health pushed him to make a living writing stories. He drank heavily all his life and at the time of the novel he was living with Lilian Hellman, riding on Hollywood money and mingling with the same New York milieu we meet in the novel.

Also, there is a constant sarcastic streak in Hammett's work, quite raw in the beginning, channelled through the detective genre later to create a vision of reality later called noir, but at the time of TTM, I think Hammett has gone cynical and disenchanted. He does not take detective work seriously anymore, he is conscious of turning into the pleasant and fascinating social drinker admired by people he despises.

Ludwig Neveu's picture
Ludwig Neveu June 4, 2012 - 12:06pm

I also think that the book was (perhaps still is) overrated in the US and underrated in Europe. In contrast to his previous stories this one can indeed appear too lighthearted and easy.

On the other hand, one can find most of Hammett's usual ingredients, most particularly his irreverence for social conventions. Written during the Prohibition, this book is a deadly drinking game : do not try to drink at the same pace as the characters !

The novel has three chief qualities : the very modern man/woman relationships (especially the one between Nick and Nora), the superb dialogue, and the leanest narration one can possibly write. Hammett is one of my favourite authors because no one is as efficient. His editor at Black Mask used to test his new writers by giving them a Hammett text and ordering them to trim it even more, and the could not take out anything. The first paragraph is already typical.

.'s picture
. June 4, 2012 - 12:07pm

Nice points Ludwig. It's usually the first novel that authors tend to write in an almost autobiographical way out of impulse but with Hammet, it was his last. The honesty comes through quite clearly in his prose. 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 4, 2012 - 12:39pm

The sarcasm is one of my favorite parts of the book. Police work is an occupation full of extremely sarcastic people, especially to their friends. They constantly joke at each other's expense. The sarcasm felt real to me.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 4, 2012 - 5:52pm

Thought I'd jump in on the discussion of one of my most influential writers, though I haven't read the books in probably 3 years at least, so sorry if I misremember the details.

It's usually the first novel that authors tend to write in an almost autobiographical way out of impulse but with Hammet, it was his last.

I agree/disagree with the sentiment here. Red Harvest (my personal favorite of his,) which I believe is his first novel, I think is very autobiographical as far as him drawing on his authority in the private detective field. The characters are very raw as far as development as literary characters, and I suspect (I may have read this somewhere) that the characters are the only thing in that book that are completely based on reality. Where by the time we get to The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, he's got story mechanics and character development down so well that he can speak more honestly on deeper interests socially and psychologically.

Going back to Nick's cynicism and his claiming that he married Nora for her money, I think this is an interesting and autobiographical character trait as Nick makes his own persona seem almost grotesque rather than just plainly conflicted pertaining to his own faults, as cynicism is easier to understand than existentialism. Out of the great authors known for the hardboiled/noir genres, I think this relates most closely to Jim Thompson's common character traits and themes, which in his that I've read is pretty apparent/superficial in the very minimal The Grifters. I want to mention the main character in After Dark, My Sweet, though I don't recall if I finished that book or not however long ago so don't want to assert any informed opinion on that. (The difference between these two writers is going on the intricacies of genres Hardboiled, which is Hammett, that is an inside-out narrative where the narrators moral understanding, despite how broken they themselves are, defeats the evils of the outside world, and the outside-in of Noir where the the transgressions of the character and the outside world tear both apart, where a sort of universal, or logical, morality reigns in the end.)

Relating to the Hammett's so awesome mastery, or maybe dominion, of dialogue-driven narrative, what amazes me so much is how much actual distance he travels through such chronologically short narratives, and this relates both to the his minimal narrative and the dialogue itself, it covers some strange area that is more than the typical usage of dialogue that is a) characterisation b) exposition and c) catchy observations. I don't know how he does it, and I think that's why I personally, as well as fiction afficianados even outside of genre, are still drawn to his books over again.

.'s picture
. June 5, 2012 - 2:23pm

Red Harvest (my personal favorite of his,) which I believe is his first novel, I think is very autobiographical as far as him drawing on his authority in the private detective field. The characters are very raw as far as development as literary characters, and I suspect (I may have read this somewhere) that the characters are the only thing in that book that are completely based on reality.

 

Thats very interesting Devon, I'll have to read Red Harvest sometime to see what you mean. 

 

Well so far the movie version is amazing and I've fallen in love with Myrna Loy who plays Nora. They just don't make movies the same anymore. 

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 6, 2012 - 1:49am

Yeah, criminally I haven't read Red Harvest - the only Hammett tome I've missed. This I'll need to redress! ;)

And how well does Myrna capture the spirit of Nora?

Domonkoz's picture
Domonkoz is reading Independence Day, Richard Ford June 6, 2012 - 9:03pm

Thoughts on Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man:

In my humble yet growing library of books that I have tirelessly hand-picked from a veritable slew of unreadable tripe at the nearby thrift store (where I get books for only a quarter if you can believe it) there are three books that fall into the “detective crime-fiction” category on my shelves.   One of these is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep—which my father demanded I read if I wanted to be any sort of writer—the other two are Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.  


The book was of course, wonderful.  It was simple, blunt prose, that wasn’t much of a transition from Hemingway—who wrote the last book I read, and in comparison to Hammett's style, his might have even appeared gaudy.   This was what people call “clean prose” that is almost devoid of hyperbole, which Hammett’s successor Chandler was sometimes accused of...


There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."


Chandler-The Red Wind


In the The Thin Man we have Nick and Nora Charles, who are living in New York from California (Hammett’s actual home), both of which are interesting and often funny characters.  Nick is as tough as a coffin nail, a humble hero of war and a drinker and a fighter (when aroused to do so).   Nora is as much a sidekick as his wife, always prodding him for stories about his glory days as a detective.


When Nick is sucked into the sorted affairs of the Jorgensen family, he reluctantly assigns himself to solve a murder of one Julia Wolfe.   But we know all about that, and why the thin man was so thin. 


The most enjoyable thing about this book (for me) was the urgency of it.  If Hammett had any notion of poetic style it was omitted completely from the book.  But also, in its simplicity, The Thin Man is also vivid and colorful, proving that big words don’t always mean big emotion.   Characters like Studsy and Meroni may seem like cliché’s to us now, but only because Hammett’s work was so iconic that it has been reproduced and mimicked a thousand times over.  The story itself is (as Chandler put it) “breathless,” and one that builds an unstoppable momentum by page 100. 


There were a few things I found that stood out as either odd (but also enjoyable nonetheless).  The Alfred Packer story for one: why had Hammett put that in?  Being a Colorado resident and a rabid fan of the film Cannibal the Musical (If you haven't seen it, see it), I was thrilled when I realized I was about to get a little lesson on Packer from such an unlikely source as Hammett. 


Hammett is just a cool writer, smart, funny, and knows how to build up to a cliffhanger.  It’s sad to note that the idiot Joseph McCarthy imprisoned and blacklisted Dashiel for communism.  The same Dashiel who served in two wars for his country, both of which he signed up for, only to be imprisoned simply for his political beliefs.  In prison he cleaned toilets while his tuberculosis chewed away at him, and as his love interest at the time had put it, “Jail made a thin man thinner and a sick man sicker.” 


When he got out of jail, Hammett resigned himself to the life of a hermit, doing very little writing (or anything beyond breathing for that matter) as the toll of a long life of drinking and smoking had finally caught up with him, eventually killing with lung cancer. Hammett was a great man and a wonderful writer.  I look forward to reading The Maltese Falcon.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 7, 2012 - 12:48pm

^ Interesting reflection. Cheers. You'll love The Maltese Falcon.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 7, 2012 - 12:49pm

I think I cheerfully need to go get drunk in a hotel room.