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The Thin Man (Penguin Essentials)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2003
Today, of course, Dashiell Hammett's reputation rests largely on the legendary novel THE MALTESE FALCON, but this does not mean that his other work isn't worth a look, and THE DAIN CURSE is a case in point: tightly written in a merciless tone, Hammett's second novel clearly sets the stage for much that was to follow.
Hammett first made his reputation as a pulp magazine author, churning out a series of short stories in a lean, mean prose that drew numerous fans and built critical attention. One of the most popular characters of his short story work was known as "the Continental Op"--an insurance detective ("Op" being short for "operative") whose various adventures would ultimately form the basis for this, Hammett's second novel-length effort.
Although some will disagree, I personally consider THE DAIN CURSE an noticeable improvement over Hammett's first novel, RED HARVEST. Like most of Hammett's work, both works are noteable for their hard-hitting prose, both offer convoluted plots, and both provide us with archetypical characterizations--but where I find RED HARVEST a strangely flat and slightly up-hill read, THE DAIN CURSE hooks you with the first few pages and holds your attention with ease throughout the entire course of the novel.
The story is, as previously stated, convoluted. The Op is called in to investigate stolen diamonds--but strangely enough, these diamonds are not really precious: they are imperfect stones loaned by a jeweler to scientist/artist Leggett, who experiments with them in an effort to improve their quality. Leggett seems as surprised as everyone that any one would actually go to the trouble of stealing them--but suddenly the tone of the characters shift, and those who first welcomed the investigation seem to resist it while those who originally opposed it seem to encourage it. Clearly, there is something more going on than a simple burglary, and it short order it becomes clear that the "something" is murder.
While THE DAIN CURSE is an entertaining read, it does have its flaws--and they are flaws that Hammett would take some pains to correct in his future work. Given that the novel is largely based on various short stories Hammett had previously written, it is hardly surprising that the movement of the plot has an episodic feel; there are actually points in the book where you feel the story has ended long before you've run out of pages, only to have Hammett spin off the plot into an unexpected direction with a somewhat awkward joining of the elements involved. The characters also tend to be inconsistent, and while this actually forms part of the plotline, Hammett does not entirely succeed in carrying off the effect.
Perhaps the single most oft-leveled accusation against the novel is that its heroine proves a largely unsympathetic character who lacks either the power of THE MALTESE FALCON'S perfidious Bridgett or the snap and spark of THE THIN MAN'S Nora. For myself, I did not find this the major flaw that so many others do; what is an issue, however, is the very limited attention Hammett offers the character in the first third of the novel, where she reads as a minor supporting character--and rather than build the role in a way that places her front and center, Hammett simply shifts gears and suddenly puts her at the forefront. The result is an extremely awkward transition that undercuts one's suspension of disbelief.
But whatever its flaws, THE DAIN CURSE is a truly entertaining read, written in the developing Hammett style that would peak with THE MALTESE FALCON. It may in some respects be a "developmental" work, but it is no less the worse for that, easily outclassing the vast majority of Hammett imitators that sprang up as the author rose to fame. Recommended to fans of the classic hard-boiled fiction school.
--GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)--
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
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 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!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Having watched all the movies in The Thin Man franchise in the last couple of years, I decided it was time to sit down and read the Dashiell Hammett book that started it all. The Thin Man still works all these years later and is lots of fun in the process.

It's Christmas, and Nick and Nora Charles are spending Christmas in New York. In the years before Nick married Nora, he worked New York as a private detective. Now he devotes his time to managing Nora's wealth and drinking.

A few days before Christmas, he runs into Dorothy Wynant, the daughter of former client Clyde Wynant. She's back in town trying to track down her father, but no one has heard from Clyde in months. Then Clyde's secretary and sometimes lover is murder, with Clyde being the chief suspect. Nick tries to stay out of the mystery, but suspects keep finding him to declare their innocence. Nora, meanwhile, finds all this fascinating. Will Nick find the killer?

The movie version and the franchise is started are well known and loved, not only for their mysteries but also for the laughs. I've got to say I didn't find quite as much humor in the printed version of the characters. Don't get me wrong, I did laugh a few times, but it was lacking the overall charm and wit of the movie.

However, the mystery was outstanding. I've got to confess I really didn't remember many details of the plot, so most of the twists took me by surprise once again. The final chapter that revealed many of the clues made me feel stupid since so many of them passed right over my head.

Nick and Nora are just as charming on page as they were on the screen. Nora was actually involved in much of the story here, which I appreciated. True, she didn't contribute much to the ultimate resolution, but it was still fun seeing her reactions to all the stuff happening around them. The rest of the characters were very interesting. Everyone was hiding something, so watching the layers being peeled was entertaining and kept me turning pages.

All of this was accomplished in close to 200 pages. As you might imagine, there was very little wasted words here. But I never had any trouble getting into the book.

The book was written in the early 1930's and is set as a "modern" book. While it doesn't waste lots of time on the culture, it does provide a fun historical trip while painting a picture (probably mostly fantasy) of what life was like for the fortunate rich during this time.

Almost 70 years later, The Thin Man remains a mystery classic, and with good reason. It's got a well plotted mystery filled with interesting characters. If you enjoy mysteries, you owe it to yourself to read it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 1998
When you've finished reading this novel (and if you care anything about the American detective story, you will read this novel), think back. Can you recall even the slightest hint of emotion, or the smallest display of caring by one individual for another? I don't think so, and this is the essence of hard-boiled detective stories. Don't get me wrong. You know Ned Beaumont cares about those he is trying to help, and gets beat up for. He's much too tough to show it, though, and that's the key. That's why they call it tough-guy fiction. This story is straight-on, airtight, wonderfully written. In one eighteen-month period Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key. Amazing. We shall never see his like again. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 February 2011
When I see a film based on a novel, I like to read the novel to compare plots and execution. Most of the time the novel or story is fuller than the movie due to the short media time and the target audience. In this case, the novel does have a better-developed plot and is more cohesive. The characters are more true to form and there is a real Rosewood/Rosebrien. However, the book characters are more sinister and Dorothy is sleazy. I planed to make this the last story I would read by Dashiel Hammett. However, others tell me I just picked the wrong one to start with.

The film on the other hand, was modified to give a lighter approach. It is the film that I will think of as the real "Thin Man" and Maureen O'Sullivan as the real Dorothy that was concerned about her father. Speaking about that, what is the Sullivan act?

The Thin Man Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy
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Dashiell Hammett's creative period was very short, effectively terminated in the 1940s by chronic ill health (TB), alcoholism, and political persecution because of his extreme outspoken left-wing views. But prior to this he produced some memorable work, and was a master of the `hard-boiled' detective story. He is best known for `The Maltese Falcon', following the successful film staring Humphrey Bogart, but `The Glass Key' is generally regarded as his finest work. The `hero', if he can be called that, is the cool Ned Beaumont, a hard-drinking fixer for a gangster, Paul Madvig, who controls a city via his political and police stooges. But Ned has a moral code of sorts, and when Paul looks like being betrayed at election time, and may even be indicted for a murder, he steps up, and at considerable personal danger (he is severely beaten several times) eventually forces the real killer to confess. To cap it all he even `wins' the daughter of a Senator, who Paul vainly hoped to marry. The story is more complex than these few sentences convey. There are many twists and turns and it has a real surprise ending. The writing is in a terse, laconic style that has often been imitated but never excelled. An excellent read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A REVIEW OF `THE THIN MAN' by DASHIELL HAMMETT

`The Thin Man' (first published in 1932) is a tightly-plotted, teasing who-dunnit from `The Golden Age of Crime Fiction'. Set in New York during the Christmas week of 1932 it deals with ex-private detective (or `gum shoe'), Nick Charles's attempts to find the killer of a woman of dubious reputation (Julia Wolf) who was caught up in the personal and professional business of screwy inventor/genius/shop-keeper, Clyde Wynant. As he attempts to untangle the mass of clues, red-herrings, aliases and false alibis, Charles needs to rely upon all of his old powers of deduction to solve a case that is simultaneously complex and simple.

Although pacey and engaging, there are obvious limitations to `The Thin Man' that make its inclusion in the ranks of `classic' crime capers questionable. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the fact that virtually every character is devoid of any truly likeable qualities. Our sleuth Charles himself is a cynical (virtual) alcoholic, living brazenly off his rather smug wife, Nora's, wealth. Compare this character profile to Agatha Christie's ludicrously pompous (but hugely endearing and enduring) Hercule Poirot. Likewise, the suspects are all horribly flawed characters, especially Wynant's ex-wife and children. Thus, when the finger of guilt points at various suspects during the story's unfolding, it is difficult for the reader to truly care whether or not justice is done.

What has saved `The Thin Man' from obscurity is its ingenious twist-in-the-tale. Like the best Poirot novels of the era, the solution to the crime appears to be screamingly obvious once one fundamental fact is established, leaving the reader to ponder, "How did I miss that?!" In addition, the setting of Prohibition-era America adds a pleasing backdrop to the gritty case, albeit by exposing the absurd failure of the well-intentioned alcohol ban.

Therefore, `The Thin Man' survives as a diverting but not wholly-satisfying entry in the canon of crime fiction. Today it is perhaps best remembered as the book that inspired the series of MGM film from the 1930s. These movies, starring William Powell as Nick Charles, adopted a lighter touch and gave audiences a far more appealing leading man. Might this explain why the film spawned a series of sequels, whilst the novel remained a one-off? Over to you, Hercule...

Barty's Score: 7/10
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VINE VOICEon 8 July 2013
When I see a film based on a novel, I like to read the novel to compare plots and execution. Most of the time the novel or story is fuller than the movie due to the short media time and the target audience. In this case, the novel does have a better-developed plot and is more cohesive. The characters are more true to form and there is a real Rosewood/Rosebrien. However, the book characters are more sinister and Dorothy is sleazy. I planed to make this the last story I would read by Dashiel Hammett. However, others tell me I just picked the wrong one to start with.

The film on the other hand, was modified to give a lighter approach. It is the film that I will think of as the real "Thin Man" and Maureen O'Sullivan as the real Dorothy that was concerned about her father. Speaking about that, what is the Sullivan act?

The Thin Man Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy
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on 29 May 2012
The Thin Man is a crime farce, written in an all-tell, dialogue and action style, with no excess fat in the prose. There's a lot of melodrama, with people storming in and out, kissing and making up; and lots of lying, deceit, manipulation and double crosses. Nick Charles is the rock at the centre of all this carry-on; the tough, no-nonsense PI, who's able to calmly and authoratively take charge and sort the wheat from the chaff, and is attractive to dames and admired by men. He's the guy that everybody naturally turns to for help, including the police. The characterisation is well developed and Hammett keeps the dozen or so central characters swirling round each other, with the pace relentless without being excessive, and the plot twisting continuously. The story had a little too much melodrama for my taste, but it's an enjoyable hardboiled yarn nonetheless.
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on 10 February 2014
I used to really love the films with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles and their dog Asta, only fairly recently found out that Dashiel Hammett wrote the stories, again another link via Rory Gallagher who was a great fan of his works, Just read a book from the library which turned up in Hammetts papers and was published in 2012, Its kind of quirky and full of punchy dialogue, very very 1930's which I love, Nick was mostly a bit squiffy all the time, solved crimes and no bad language which is really refreshing, going to enjoy reading it as I have enjoyed the library book.
I also didn't realise Dashiel Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon which is another favourite film of mine, so I bought the book to read
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