Book Group, Books

Book 95: The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett

To be completely honest this book was sort of “meh”. (Imagine a teenager with a blank look on their face and shrugging their shoulders as they make this sound and that is my reaction to the novel.)

As you’ll see in the rest of the review, I’m banking on the film being amazing because the idea is rich and the time period provides ample opportunities for costume and drama. I did try to think of a word to describe the novel and both mediocre and uninspiring didn’t fit. I can see where others would love this novel, but I didn’t really have a reaction to it. If I didn’t 1) refuse to leave a book unread; and 2) have to read this for my Books into Movies book group I probably would have abandoned it about half way through. Perhaps it’s just not my cup of tea, but that being said it was easy to read and relatively interesting considering my lack of enjoyment in the novel.

The back cover says, “At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.” The romance was sort of unstated, unless it was the romance of the era (late 1920s) or of the city (New York City), and the murder mystery was only a way to move the story and characters along.

I felt the comedy of manners was the most apt description of the novel. The interactions of the characters, the privilege and frivolousness of their lifestyles and the pathos of the ‘speakeasy/mob-type’ language created an ambiance which I think will translate great into a film. However, the exaggeration of some of the character’s actions and privileges really was too much at times. When you look at Jane Austen’s works, arguably the best comedy of manners written to be read and not necessarily performed, and compare it to Hammett’s there is something truly American that comes across petty and peevish. Both the class and the grace of earlier times and the 1920s are missing from this book and that’s why I think the film has the opportunity to bring those back into the picture.

As for the murder mystery, I felt it was rather a poor vehicle to move the story forward. It felt slightly tedious and the group could easily have had most of the chance meetings and conversations with some other less over-the-top scenario, like the numerous affairs mentioned, or just the various con schemes. But I will say I did not expect the ending. I’d made assumptions elsewhere and those were just wrong, not even a bit, but completely. The end of the novel happens in about three pages and is somewhat lacking, but the twist was enough to perk my interest but then the story just ended. I do know the films continued and there were six or seven of them.

Recommendation: PASS. Although it’s a fast read and the solution of the mystery isn’t quite what I expected, I didn’t find it worth the two days it took to read or the effort to remember most of the characters.

Opening Line: “I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.”

Closing Line: “‘That may be,’ Nora said, ‘but it’s all pretty unsatisfactory.'” (Whited out.)

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6 thoughts on “Book 95: The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett”

  1. manners-based comedies/mysteries are really hard to do well. Too many times, the characters end up being somehow flat, when if anything, they should have PLENTY of depth. And somehow the British just seem to be better at them….I think I’ll stick with Sayers for a 20’s era mystery. 🙂

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    1. Flat is a great way to describe it – I wish I would’ve thought of that. I’ve not heard of Sayers, maybe I’ll give them a try when I get bored at some point in the future.

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    1. Maybe I’ll check it out. Like I said it could’ve just been the timing (or maybe I desperately wanted to get back to A Song of Ice and Fire :-D), but honestly I think it was too much dialogue.

      It came across like it could be a great film (which I’m still waiting on from the library) with all of the body language and facial expressions I imagined in my head, but I just don’t know.

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