Monday, June 27, 2016

Books: The Thin Man

The 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

I picked up Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man in a used bookstore on an impulse. It wasn't like I had any great desire to read it. For a brief period years ago, I had an interest in classic crime fiction, but it didn't last long. The thought of this blogathon did cross my mind, but mostly I was curious about the book. I had written about Hammett last winter in relation to Lillian Hellman... and, of course, I've seen the movie.

Dashiell Hammett
The first thing I noticed was that the ridiculous amount of drinking William Powell and Myrna Loy do in the film is no exaggeration. Nick and Nora really do drink that much in the book! It's almost comical how often Hammett writes them drinking, mixing a drink, receiving a drink, recovering from a drink, wanting a drink... Seriously, I almost thought this was meant to be read as a parody!

The next thing I noticed was how heavy the book is on dialogue. Hammett gets away with a bare minimum of narrative description of people and places. If he were a member of my writers group, I'd probably call him on that, but it didn't bother me that much. Nick Charles as written in the book strikes me as a man not easily perturbed by the things going on around him. Nora is as I imagined her from the movies - the sensible gal Friday with the droll humor.

The story, however, didn't grab me. As much as I tried to imagine Powell and Loy acting their way through this complex murder mystery with a large cast, I didn't care much for what was going on. I didn't see why the murder mattered, and while everyone's motives were laid out in the open all nice and neat, it still didn't make them that appealing as characters. The same might be true of the movie, but at least you had Powell and Loy to make it all watchable. I think I'll stick to Dennis Lehane from now on.


  1. Interesting! I've always thought that I should read Hammett, but maybe I'll just re-watch a few of the movies. It's been awhile.

    1. I'd say the book is a product of its time. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just the style of writing Hammett engaged in isn't quite like the style I'm used to nowadays.

  2. Those dialogue heavy books like "The Thin Man" and "The Maltese Falcon" made them perfect for the movies. It took actors of real screen personality to make the characters truly immortal.

  3. True. I imagine the THIN MAN screenwriter probably didn't have too hard a time once he streamlined the story down to something more compact.

  4. I'm sorry to hear that The Thin Man novel disappointed you. I've always wanted to read this one. I'll read it with your review in mind. Thanks!

  5. Well, it's just my two cents. I know this book is highly regarded, but it wasn't my thing.


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