The Thin Man
By Dashiell Hammett
Read by William Dufris
Nick and Nora Charles are Hammett’s most enchanting creations, a rich, glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.
Nick Charles is a former detective who gave up the game when he married Nora, a wealthy socialite whose inherited business allows them a lifestyle of ease. They spend Christmas in New York City in 1934 to get away from her family. There is much socializing, enough drinking to knock out a horse, and a murder to boot.
The style of The Thin Man is typical of a detective novel – clues are dropped along the way before the hero explains it all at the end. And there is a decidedly light, comic tone to the novel despite Nick clearly being a hard-boiled detective.
Part of why I enjoyed this book so much was because of William Dufris, the narrator of the audiobook. The Thin Man is written in first person and Nick’s swagger comes across in every line that is not someone else’s dialogue. Dufris did a wonderful job of capturing the rhythm of Hammett’s language which is conversational and full of slang.
Nora is clearly amused that her clever husband used to be a clever detective. She dismisses his ridiculous stories that are clearly lies when he doesn’t want to answer a question and pesters him for information on the case that he is unwillingly drawn into. Nora practically pushes Nick to take on the case so she can find out what happened. She is in most scenes, even if not in the dialogue, so knows just about everything that is going on. She is also able to gather a few clues of her own, which tickles Nick. He’s amused by her interest and will also take help wherever he can get it.
The rest of the characters are whackadoos.
Dorothy Wynant shows up because she wants Nick to help her find her father, Clyde. Around the same time, Clyde’s secretary and mistress is found dead by Mimi Jorgensen, Clyde’s ex-wife and Dorothy’s mother. Dorothy wants Nick to help their family (there is vague history there) and especially help her father who she can’t believe killed the woman.
Dorothy is scared of her mother. (I think Mimi beats her in fits of anger.) Her stepfather, Christian Jorgensen, isn’t so great either. Her brother Gilbert is another whackadoo. He is constantly badgering Nick about strange topics like incest and cannibalism. (There is a part when Gilbert reads a section of a book that relates a tale of cannibalism in American history. I’m not sure what the point of that was except to show how weird Gilbert’s tastes are and to possibly comment on the nastiness of people, as seen via the Wynant family.)
Another murder occurs with the same gun that killed Clyde’s mistress. Nick works with the police, Clyde’s lawyer Herbert Macaulay, and the Wynants to discover who killed the mistress.
I’ve always willing to admit when I don’t see an ending coming. This often happens in mysteries. It’s either too obvious from the beginning, which is no fun, or there are plenty of red herrings to keep me interested and looking elsewhere. I’ll be honest – I had my money on creepy Gilbert, probably because he was just creepy enough and popped up periodically.
After the reveal of who the thin man is and who killed the mistress and where the hell is Clyde Wynant, Nick sits down with Nora to explain everything to her. She peppers him with questions and pokes holes, to which he says it’s the only logical answer that fits. And it’s true. Everything he says makes sense. Luckily there are some parentheticals that mention information found after the conversation that help support the theory. His remarks on how the system work are found. The police figure out who did it, they get the best evidence to back up the theory, the prosecutors build on that theory and go to trial. Imperfect, but there you have it.
Having not read any Hammett, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this as much reading it as opposed to listening to it. Dufris’ rendering of Nick Charles was so enjoyable and made the experience for me.