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Literature / The Thin Man

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The Thin Man is a 1934 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett.

Nick Charles, a former private detective who retired for a life of ease after marrying Nora, a wealthy socialite, is drawn into investigating a murder. The Other Wiki notes: "As they attempt to solve the case, Nick and Nora share a great deal of banter and witty dialogue, along with copious amounts of alcohol." The "thin man" of the title is Clyde Wynant, a suspect in the case.

The novel has been largely displaced in the public consciousness by the popular film adaptation starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which was followed by five sequels and a spin-off TV series, and resulted in a popular confusion about the title character; in order to keep "The Thin Man" as an overall title, in the later film sequels and the TV series the thin man of the title is Nick.

Not to be confused with The Slender Man Mythos.

The novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Dorothy's mother beat her after she went out to see the Charleses.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The story of Alferd Packer, the man who murdered his companions in the mountains, ate their bodies, and ... took their money.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Nick and Nora.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Wynants.
    • Gilbert admits to lying about having evidence because he is jealous of Dorry's crush on Nick; saying he wants the Big Brother Worship back then asking Nick about incest. Mimi lies about everything, taunts and beats Dorry, and is obsessed with money and attention. Dorry is reluctant to go home because she doesn't want to deal with her mother and fears that her stepfather would take advantage of her while is drunk. Jorgensen is only married to Mimi for her money and leaves without so much as a goodbye. Then there's Clyde.
    • On the other hand, Gilbert seems to have a patronizing sort of affection for Mimi and attempts to help her fight Charles when she attacks him in a fit of rage, which she later calls 'incredibly sweet, but incredibly stupid.' Also, Dorry stole the cocaine he was 'experimenting' with to prevent him from becoming an addict.
  • Chandler American Time
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nick and Nora, especially Nick.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Wynant is found dead.
  • Dirty Old Man: Jorgensen, who came onto his wife's daughter.
  • Easily Forgiven: Nick doesn't really hold Morelli shooting him against him, later having a lengthy conversation with the man in order to learn more about the murder victim.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Detective Guild of the New York Police.
  • Lighter and Softer: At least, in comparison with some of Hammett's other work; it's still got rough edges, but the warm, witty and ultimately loving dynamic between Nick and Nora gives it a lighter touch that many of his other stories — typically centering around grim, hard-bitten and isolated men and cruel, manipulative yet equally isolated women — tend to lack.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: When Nick gets shot he insists that he's fine but Nora and Dorry fuss over him and Nora makes him stay in bed while he heals. He really does seem fine, though.
  • May–December Romance: Nick is forty-one; Nora is twenty-six. Jorgensen is said to be younger than Mimi.
  • Precocious Crush: Dorry on Nick.
  • Private Detective: Nick Charles.
  • Red Herring: There are a lot. Nick quickly figures out who the murderer is when the main suspect is revealed to have been dead the whole time.
  • Retired Badass: Nick.
  • Secondary Character Title: Wynant is the "thin man" of the title.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Nick points this out to Nora regarding murder mysteries. He notes that despite the resolution ultimately it doesn't change anything in the lives of the people it affects. People will remain people. Crime doesn't really change society, neither does solving the crime. It only affects the victims and the killers at best.
    Nora: What do you think will happen to Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert now?
    Nick: Nothing new. They'll go on being Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert just as you and I will go on being us and the Quinns will go on being the Quinns. Murder doesn't round out anybody's life except the murdered's and sometimes the murderer's.
    Nora: That may be, but it's all pretty unsatisfactory.
    • In-Universe, Nick has little appetite for them himself. Dorry keeps trying to tie the things she wants to tell Nick back to long and involved personal stories and Nick keeps making her get to the point.
  • The Watson: Nora.