Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

Why Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” is remarkable.

I’ve been thinking about detectives stories a lot lately. So I’ve been revisiting the stories and novels from the genre that have had a great impact on me. As a writer, I think the genre is inescapable. And I think fluency with it makes one a better writer no matter what genre you work in. Take Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. It’s a brilliant detective story and it’s brilliant sci fi.

For me, what a mystery gives you is a number of ways to pull a reader through a book. And that’s an important thing to be able to do for all genres except crappy, postmodern literary fiction. And, as you might have guessed from that last sentence, that is not a genre I careto work in.

Here’s the review I posted on goodreads. I’ll add one more thing to it here. The other major influence on Edwin Windsor is Salvador Hardin from Asimov’s Foundation series. He’s kind of a blip in the whole thing, but I’ve never forgotten him. Especially his magnificent quote, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” If I was a great writer, I would have stolen the quote, word-for-word and put it in Edwin’s mouth. As it is, I’m just a good writer, and still have some sense of shame.

My Goodreads Review

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a lasting love of this book for several reasons. The relationship between Nick and Nora is wonderful, yes, the dialog sings, but there is a real relationship there. This is a guy solving a murder with his wife. Hammett has unlimited tough-guy noir cred (try his Red Harvest) but this is one of the only books that I know of that manages captures a relationship in this way. (and if you know of some more, please message me.)

The second thing I love about this book is how Nick operates as a social animal. There’s remarkably little violence. Nick handles himself with poise. He’s a tough guy, sure, but he’s doesn’t have to prove it. And most of the interactions he has, he gets the edge because he’s friendly, or respected or known. This is the detective as social animal. As opposes to the solitary, duty-bound detective of much (if not all) of Hammett’s other work, Nick is part of a fabric of larger society and is more effective as a detective because he is.

For those two reasons, I cite this book as something remarkable in all of detective fiction. And maybe all of literature. Seriously, how many stories do you know where husband and wife have a good and entertaining relationship.

For full disclosure, I have to say, that Nick Charles was one of the inspirations for one of my own protagonists. Edwin Windsor, from How to Succeed in Evil. He not a detective at all, nor is married, but he solves problems by being smart, rather than being strong or violent.

If you haven’t, read this book.

View all my reviews

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