Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

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 come over to me.

There are a lot of details in this opening sentence. To begin with, the narrator is in a speakeasy, an illegal bar in the 1920's or early 30's that served bootlegged liquor during prohibition. The narrator is waiting for a woman to do some shopping, which can be annoying as time seems to get sucked into a black hole on such occasions. Shopping has a way of making an hour seem like five minutes for shoppers and quite the opposite for those waiting. And, though we don't know who Nora is, another girl slithers over creating a potential moral dilemma for our narrator. There is little conflict, but there is dashiell of foreshadowing.  

First thing said:

"Aren't you Nick Charles?"

From this point there is dialogue, as the two talk, which feels curt and to the point, just as one would expect in a Dashiell Hammett novel, reflective of the noir genre, establishing the tone expected in hard-boiled detective fiction, revealing the character of the narrator. Well done. However, by the end of the first page, the only direct conflict is the empty whiskey glass, which mercifully gets resolved in the next line.

Honestly, I can't decide on 2.5 or 3 stars for this. On the one hand, there are no obvious cliches. The first chapter is short, introducing characters and foreshadowing conflict, with great dialogue that pulls one in, but on the other hand, there lacks the substance that makes a mystery a mystery; I'd have preferred an actual revelation of nefarious affairs, like a threat, a warning or a body. Instead chapter 1 ends with a mildly jealous wife.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

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