The Thin Man

The Thin Man


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679722632
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/1989
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 121,398
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.

Date of Birth:

May 27, 1894

Date of Death:

January 10, 1961

Place of Birth:

St. Mary, Maryland

Place of Death:

New York


Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

Read an Excerpt

1 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. She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes, the result was satisfactory. "Aren't you Nick Charles?" she asked. I said: "Yes." She held out her hand. "I'm Dorothy Wynant. You don't remember me, but you ought to remember my father, Clyde Wynant. You--" "Sure," I said, "and I remember you now, but you were only a kid of eleven or twelve then, weren't you?" "Yes, that was eight years ago. Listen: remember those stories you told me? Were they true?" "Probably not. How is your father?" She laughed. "I was going to ask you. Mamma divorced him, you know, and we never hear from him--except when he gets in the newspapers now and then with some of his carryings on. Don't you ever see him?" My glass was empty. I asked her what she would have to drink, she said Scotch and soda. I ordered two of them and said: "No, I've been living in San Francisco." She said slowly: "I'd like to see him. Mamma would raise hell if she found it out, but I'd like to see him." "Well?" "He's not where we used to live, on Riverside Drive, and he's not in the phone book or city directory." "Try his lawyer," I suggested. Her face brightened. "Who is he?" "It used to be a fellow named Mac-something-or-other--Macaulay, that's it, Herbert Macaulay. He was in the Singer Building." "Lend me a nickel," she said, and went out to the telephone. She came back smiling. "I found him. He's just round the corner on Fifth Avenue." "Your father?" "The lawyer. He says my father's out of town. I'm going round to see him." She raised her glass to me. "Family reunions. Look, why don't--" Asta jumped up and punched me in the belly with her front feet. Nora, at the end of the leash, said: "She's had a swell afternoon--knocked over a table of toys at Lord & Taylor's, scared a fat woman silly by licking her leg in Saks's, and's been patted by three policemen." I made introductions. "My wife, Dorothy Wynant. Her father was once a client of mine, when she was only so high. A good guy, but screwy." "I was fascinated by him," Dorothy said, meaning me, "a real live detective, and used to follow him around making him tell me about his experiences. He told me awful lies, but I believed every word." I said: "You look tired, Nora." "I am. Let's sit down." Dorothy Wynant said she had to go back to her table. She shook hands with Nora; we must drop in for cocktails, they were living at Courtland, her mother's name was Jorgensen now. We would be glad to and she must come see us some time, we were at the Normandie and would be in New York for another week or two. Dorothy patted the dog's head and left us. We found a table. Nora said: "She's pretty." "If you like them like that." She grinned at me. "You got types?" "Only you, darling--lanky brunettes with wicked jaws." "And how about the red-head you wandered off with at the Quinns' last night?" "That's silly," I said. "She just wanted to show me some French etchings." 2 The next day Herbert Macaulay telephoned me. "Hello, I didn't know you were back in town till Dorothy Wynant told me. How about lunch?" "What time is it?" "Half past eleven. Did I wake you up?" "Yes," I said, "but that's all right. Suppose you come up here for lunch: I've got a hangover and don't feel like running around much. . . . O.K., say one o'clock." I had a drink with Nora, who was going out to have her hair washed, then another after a shower, and was feeling better by the time the telephone rang again. A female voice asked: "Is Mr. Macaulay there?" "Not yet." "Sorry to trouble you, but would you mind asking him to call his office as soon as he gets there? It's important." I promised to do that. Macaulay arrived about ten minutes later. He was a big curly-haired, rosy-cheeked, rather good-looking chap of about my age--forty-one--though he looked younger. He was supposed to be a pretty good lawyer. I had worked on several jobs for him when I was living in New York and we had always got along nicely. Now we shook hands and patted each other's backs, and he asked me how the world was treating me, and I said, "Fine," and asked him and he said, "Fine," and I told him to call his office. He came away from the telephone frowning. "Wynant's back in town," he said, "and wants me to meet him." I turned around with the drinks I had poured. "Well, the lunch can--" "Let him wait," he said, and took one of the glasses from me. "Still as screwy as ever?" "That's no joke," Macaulay said solemnly. "You heard they had him in a sanatorium for nearly a year back in '29?" "No." He nodded. He sat down, put his glass on a table beside his chair, and leaned towards me a little. "What's Mimi up to, Charles?" "Mimi? Oh, the wife--the ex-wife. I don't know. Does she have to be up to something?" "She usually is," he said dryly, and then very slowly, "and I thought you'd know." So that was it. I said: "Listen, Mac, I haven't been a detective for six years, since 1927." He stared at me. "On the level," I assured him, "a year after I got married, my wife's father died and left her a lumber mill and a narrow-gauge railroad and some other things and I quit the Agency to look after them. Anyway I wouldn't be working for Mimi Wynant, or Jorgensen, or whatever her name is--she never liked me and I never liked her." "Oh, I didn't think you--" Macaulay broke off with a vague gesture and picked up his glass. When he took it away from his mouth, he said: "I was just wondering. Here Mimi phones me three days ago--Tuesday--trying to find Wynant; then yesterday Dorothy phones, saying you told her to, and comes around, and--I thought you were still sleuthing, so I was wondering what it was all about." "Didn't they tell you?" "Sure--they wanted to see him for old times' sake. That means a lot." "You lawyers are a suspicious crew," I said. "Maybe they did--that and money. But what's the fuss about? Is he in hiding?" Macaulay shrugged. "You know as much about it as I do. I haven't seen him since October." He drank again. "How long are you going to be in town?" "Till after New Year's," I told him and went to the telephone to ask room service for menus. 3 Nora and I went to the opening of Honeymoon at the Little Theatre that night and then to a party given by some people named Freeman or Fielding or something. I felt pretty low when she called me the next morning. She gave me a newspaper and a cup of coffee and said: "Read that." I patiently read a paragraph or two, then put the paper down and took a sip of coffee. "Fun's fun," I said, "but right now I'd swap you all the interviews with Mayor-elect O'Brien ever printed--and throw in the Indian picture--for a slug of whis--" "Not that, stupid." She put a finger on the paper. "That." INVENTOR'S SECRETARY MURDERED IN APARTMENT Julia Wolf's bullet-riddled body found; Police seek her employer, Clyde Wynant The bullet-riddled body of Julia Wolf, thirty-two-year old confidential secretary to Clyde Miller Wynant, well-known inventor, was discovered late yesterday afternoon in the dead woman's apartment at 411 East Fifty-fourth St. by Mrs. Christian Jorgensen, divorced wife of the inventor, who had gone there in an attempt to learn her former husband's present address. Mrs. Jorgensen, who returned Monday after a six-year stay in Europe, told police that she heard feeble groans when she rang the murdered woman's door-bell, whereupon she notified an elevator boy, Mervin Holly, who called Walter Meany, apartment-house superintendent. Miss Wolf was lying on the bedroom floor with four .32-caliber bullet-wounds in her chest when they entered the apartment, and died without having recovered consciousness before police and medical aid arrived. Herbert Macaulay, Wynant's attorney, told the police that he had not seen the inventor since October. He stated that Wynant called him on the telephone yesterday and made an appointment, but failed to keep it; and disclaimed any knowledge of his client's whereabouts. Miss Wolf, Macaulay stated, had been in the inventor's employ for the past eight years. The attorney said he knew nothing about the dead woman's family or private affairs and could throw no light on her murder. The bullet-wounds could not have been self-inflicted, according to . . . The rest of it was the usual police department handout. "Do you suppose he killed her?" Nora asked when I put the paper down again. "Wynant? I wouldn't be surprised. He's batty as hell." "Did you know her?" "Yes. How about a drop of something to cut the phlegm?" "What was she like?" "Not bad," I said. "She wasn't bad-looking and she had a lot of sense and a lot of nerve--and it took both to live with that guy." "She lived with him?" "Yes. I want a drink, please. That is, it was like that when I knew them." "Why don't you have some breakfast first? Was she in love with him or was it just business?" "I don't know. It's too early for breakfast." When Nora opened the door to go out, the dog came in and put her front feet on the bed, her face in my face. I rubbed her head and tried to remember something Wynant had once said to me, something about women and dogs. It was not the woman-spaniel-walnut-tree line. I could not remember what it was, but there seemed to be some point in trying to remember. Nora returned with two drinks and another question: "What's he like?" "Tall--over six feet--and one of the thinnest men I've ever seen. He must be about fifty now, and his hair was almost white when I knew him. Usually needs a haircut, ragged brindle mustache, bites his fingernails." I pushed the dog away to reach for my drink. "Sounds lovely. What were you doing with him?" "A fellow who'd worked for him accused him of stealing some kind of invention from him. Rosewater was his name. He tried to shake Wynant down by threatening to shoot him, bomb his house, kidnap his children, cut his wife's throat--I don't know what all--if he didn't come across. We never caught him--must've scared him off. Anyway, the threats stopped and nothing happened." Nora stopped drinking to ask: "Did Wynant really steal it?" "Tch, tch, tch," I said. "This is Christmas Eve: try to think good of your fellow man." 4 That afternoon I took Asta for a walk, explained to two people that she was a Schnauzer and not a cross between a Scottie and an Irish terrier, stopped at Jim's for a couple of drinks, ran into Larry Crowley, and brought him back to the Normandie with me. Nora was pouring cocktails for the Quinns, Margot Innes, a man whose name I did not catch, and Dorothy Wynant. Dorothy said she wanted to talk to me, so we carried our cocktails into the bedroom. She came to the point right away. "Do you think my father killed her, Nick?" "No," I said. "Why should I?" "Well, the police have-- Listen, she was his mistress, wasn't she?" I nodded. "When I knew them." She stared at her glass while saying, "He's my father. I never liked him. I never liked Mamma." She looked up at me. "I don't like Gilbert." Gilbert was her brother. "Don't let that worry you. Lots of people don't like their relatives." "Do you like them?" "My relatives?" "Mine." She scowled at me. "And stop talking to me as if I was still twelve." "It's not that," I explained. "I'm getting tight." "Well, do you?" I shook my head. "You were all right, just a spoiled kid. I could get along without the rest of them." "What's the matter with us?" she asked, not argumentatively, but as if she really wanted to know. "Different things. Your--" Harrison Quinn opened the door and said: "Come on over and play some Ping-Pong, Nick." "In a little while." "Bring Beautiful along." He leered at Dorothy and went away. She said: "I don't suppose you know Jorgensen." "I know a Nels Jorgensen." "Some people have all the luck. This one's named Christian. He's a honey. That's Mamma--divorces a lunatic and marries a gigolo." Her eyes became wet. She caught her breath in a sob and asked: "What am I going to do, Nick?" Her voice was a frightened child's. I put an arm around her and made what I hoped were comforting sounds. She cried on my lapel. The telephone beside the bed began to ring. In the next room "Rise and Shine" was coming through the radio. My glass was empty. I said: "Walk out on them." She sobbed again. "You can't walk out on yourself." "Maybe I don't know what you're talking about." "Please don't tease me," she said humbly. Nora, coming in to answer the telephone, looked questioningly at me. I made a face at her over the girl's head. When Nora said "Hello" into the telephone, the girl stepped quickly back away from me and blushed. "I--I'm sorry," she stammered, "I didn't--" Nora smiled sympathetically at her. I said: "Don't be a dope." The girl found her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes with it. Nora spoke into the telephone. "Yes . . . I'll see if he's in. Who's calling, please?" She put a hand over the mouthpiece and addressed me: "It's a man named Norman. Do you want to talk to him?" I said I didn't know and took the telephone. "Hello." A somewhat harsh voice said: "Mr. Charles? . . . Mr. Charles, I understand that you were formerly connected with the Trans-American Detective Agency." "Who is this?" I asked. "My name is Albert Norman, Mr. Charles, which probably means nothing to you, but I would like to lay a proposition before you. I am sure you will--" "What kind of a proposition?" "I can't discuss it over the phone, Mr. Charles, but if you will give me half an hour of your time, I can promise--""Sorry," I said. "I'm pretty busy and--""But, Mr. Charles, this is--" Then there was a loud noise: it could have been a shot or something falling or anything else that would make a loud noise. I said, "Hello," a couple of times, got no answer, and hung up.

What People are Saying About This

Sinclair Lewis

The most breathless of Hammett's stories.

Raymond Chandler

Hammett did over and over what only the best writers ever do...he wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

Customer Reviews

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The Thin Man 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
slimikin More than 1 year ago
Nick and Nora Charles are enjoying Christmas in New York, with its merry round of parties, speakeasies, and the theatre, when a young woman approaches Nick and asks whether he's heard from her father. Nick recognizes the girl as Dorothy Wynant, whom he last knew years ago when he worked a case for the girl's father, eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant. Nick used to be a private detective, but as he explains to Dorothy, he's no longer in the trade. Not that his insistence on that fact means anything when Clyde Wynant's assistant suddenly turns up dead. The police, the former Mrs. Wynant, mob enforcers, Clyde Wynant's lawyer, even Nick's wife---everyone seems to believe Nick should be working the case. And despite his protests, Nick finds himself intrigued. There are plenty of suspects, and Nick can't entirely accept that the most obvious one---Clyde Wynant, himself---is the real culprit. I don't read mystery often, but when I do, it's usually of the hard-boiled detective variety. Considering that The Thin Man is a well-known classic in that genre, it's unsurprising that I enjoyed reading it. Nick and Nora Charles are charming, the mystery compelling, and the minor characters engaging.even if they are familiar types. I loved Nick's voice, and the fast-paced patter of dialogue, although I will say I rather missed some of the more atmospheric, noirish description I've encountered in other hard-boiled detective fiction. Still, The Thin Man is a lot of fun, and the perfect introduction to a classic author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Let me begin by noting that I am reviewing the audio cassette version of The Thin Man that stars Daniel J. Travanti as Nick Charles and Lynne Lipton as his young and wealthy wife, Nora. If you are like me, you met The Thin Man first in the movie series. Those movies have Nick Charles straddling the gap between the 'haves' and the tough guy world with insouciance as he waltzes with the wealthy socialites and unravels fatal plots. The book itself is much darker, directly suggesting alcoholism, incest, adultery, and all the minor crimes . . . and deadly sins. The view is that humans are thoroughly flawed, but some can rise above that to serve others anyway. That is the nobility of the Nick Charles character . . . as he staggers out of bed in the afternoon with yet another hangover. Helping out old clients is his source of redemption against the temptations he cannot resist. The world view is probably somewhat autobiographical as Hammett spent more of his time in Hollywood late in his career, rather than working as a fiction writer. The echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald are very strong, especially to Tender Is The Night. For those who love the classic 'tough guy' stories by Hammett, this one can never have the same appeal. Nick is still tough, but he mostly shows it by taking abuse with style. That's a feminine kind of toughness that comes from maturity. He passes off the chances to trade punches when they arise. The characterizations of Nick and Nora Charles are the strength of the novel. But the book transcends that by also creating a picture of a flawed marriage between two people with hearts of gold who love each other, but are also killing each other. The development of the relationship is brilliant. I would like to especially note that the acting by Daniel J. Travanti as Nick brings a great sensitivity to the role. When I read the book, I put a snarl into a lot of the Nick lines when he is beset by yet another visitor or telephone call. Mr. Travanti wisely chooses to share an equivocal openness instead. I think his reading is correct, and added much to my appreciation of the story. Whoever cast him for this role deserves commendation as well. The mystery itself isn't very mysterious. It just has lots of red herrings. If you judge mysteries by the quality of the plot unfolding of that mystery, you will probably rate this book at 3 or 4 stars. I rated this audio cassette version for 5 stars based on the story line about the nature of modern people and relationships, and the superb acting by Mr. Travanti. After enjoying this dramatization of the story, I suggest that you think about what temptations are difficult for you to resist. How will those temptations undermine your life and your relationships? How can you occupy yourself in ways so that there will either be less temptation or you will be more able to resist it? To your good health and that of all your relationships! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this was the last novel completed by Hammett, he did live for over twenty-six more years until 1961. The story introduced the dashing couple Nick and Nora Charles. If you entertain romantic notions about New York City in the 1930's, this will help you enjoy the book.
drmarc More than 1 year ago
Just a pleasure to read. Good detective story and great period piece. It's what made him and Raymond Chandler so appealing.
Heather_S on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I really like Dashiell Hammett's stuff, and on its own this was a really good who-done-it, but I didn't like it as much as the movie based on the book. Nick and Nora weren't as funny or as likeable.
wendyrey on LibraryThing 3 months ago
A crime novel set in 1930's New York where a group of cardboard characters do an awful lot of drinking and shooting each other. I couldn't get engaged with this book and couldn't have cared less about who did it other than rather hoping that Mr Charles the detective was the culprit. Culturally very dated and also used the old dodge of the clever private/ amateur detective working with the stupid (except for one man) police.Yawn.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
After seeing all the movies, I finally read the book. Nick and Nora Charles are trying to enjoy a Christmas in New York City, but a case involving one of Nick's former clients keeps interrupting the holiday. I found this book lacked some of the spark of the movie version, but it was still enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
R_Hinshaw More than 1 year ago
Four and a half stars. I had been looking forward to reading this as I had been a fan of the classic film series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Compared to the film, which was released later the same year (1934) the book is considerably more cynical and the characters and situations more sordid. The newly-enacted Hayes Code meant that some of the darker elements of the novel’s text are subdued into subtext in the film. Fans of the movie might be disappointed that Nora isn’t quite as much a part of the action in the book, but in general their dynamic is the same. The humor makes this one seem lighter than Hammett’s other novels, but it is still a good mystery and a fun read. The success of the novel and especially the film series (Hammett contributed to the story of at least two of the sequels) established the archetype of the playfully bickering couple who solve crimes together such as ‘Hart to Hart’ or ‘Castle’.
GoLoTu More than 1 year ago
Interesting to read and see the beginning style,format and plot techniques that have morphed into so much of the genre today. It's like a preview of things to come, giving a hint of of possibilities but not quite completing the picture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Successful in a B movies series as mysteries then were not yet biggies until bogart. Humourous society departure from grim grime that both might be subjects for aaa was a convention of the period think there might have been a book sequel but not sure as mixed up with movies
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Classic noir fun read
MysteryLoverMC More than 1 year ago
Going on vacation, I decided to take along some recognized classics. I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Dashiell Hammett is always a good read no matter how familiar with his novels you may be.
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