Going for the Golden: “The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett

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The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett features Nick Charles, a former detective, aged 41, who now lives the high life since his wife, Nora, inherited a fortune. As the book opens, Nick sits drinking at a speakeasy in New York a few days before Christmas 1933 when a young lady approaches him. She tells him that she is Dorothy Wynant, the daughter of Nick’s former client, the eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant. Dorothy asks Nick’s help to locate her father, whom she hasn’t seen in nearly ten years. He puts Dorothy in touch with Clyde’s lawyer, who tells Dorothy where her father lives, though he is currently out of town. Then two days later, the newspaper reports that Clyde’s secretary, Julia Wolfe, has been murdered. Julia’s affair with Clyde was responsible for the break-up of Clyde and Mimi’s marriage eight years earlier. It was the-now Mimi Yorgunsen who discovered Julia as she lay dying of a gunshot wound when Mimi visited Julia’s home to inquire after the location of her ex-husband.

Nick tries to stay out of the case, pointing out that he quit the private detective business several years earlier, but everyone seems determined to drag him into it. Dorothy and her younger brother, Gilbert, also become enamored of Nick, full of hero worship, and Mimi tries to flirt with Nick, all of which add to the pressure Nick experiences to work on the case. But then Shep Morelli, the mobster whom police have zeroed in on, shoots Nick in a bizarre attempt to prove his innocence. Fortunately, it’s only a flesh wound in his side, so typical of such books, Nick virtually immediately forgets about his injury, as if a gunshot wound is nothing more than a papercut.

The plot thickens when the police discover that Wynant’s ex- wife’s new husband, Chris Yorgunsen, is really Victor Rosewater, a former employee and enemy of Wynant. Nick finds himself having to sort through all the lies of those around him, in particular Dorothy, who clings to Nick as “the maiden in distress,” and Mimi, who alternates between hostility and coming onto him romantically. “When I start believing Mimi, I hope I have sense not to admit it.” In the meantime, Clyde Wynant proves elusive, with everyone’s wondering about his involvement in the situation.

The Thin Man, published in 1932, is a classic mystery book that inspired a popular series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. The title refers to Clyde Wynant, who is unusually thin. The book centers around the question of whether Wynant murdered Julia Wolfe or is just an eccentric inventor trying to save his latest invention. The conclusion came as quite a surprise to me but made sense once it all came out.

The characters in this book come across vividly, as we strongly picture each one, especially Nick and Nora, along with Dorothy and Mimi. Nick seems to be drinking alcohol throughout the whole course of the book, so I can’t help but wonder how he has his wits to detect the case. We see Nora, Dorothy, Gilbert, and Mimi drunk at various times, but though Nick drinks more than everyone else, he never seems to get drunk. Dorothy does get a little tiresome at times, as she clings to Nick and seems like a lovesick teenager with a lot more complexity and deceit to her than the 20- something woman she is.

William Dufris performs the audiobook of The Thin Man. He creates strong characterizations of each one in the book. The voices he creates for each person suit all of them well. I appreciated his inflections and timing in his performance, which I really enjoyed.

So far in my exploration of classic mysteries, Going for the Golden, I have not been highly impressed by most of the books, which seem to be darker and often more dragged out than books I typically enjoy. But The Thin Man came across stronger and more interesting than many classic mysteries I’ve covered so far, with the definite exception of the Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason books, which I love. Hammett writes from experience, having worked as a private detective both before and after World War I, adding verisimilitude to the book. It contains curious twists, and the question of the truth about Clyde Wynant and his innocence adds a strong layer of intrigue. I give this book four stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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