‘ve read Hammett before, specifically his Maltese Falcon, which is a cracking good film because it stuck straight to the text. It was one of the best tough-guy novels I’d ever read.
This this time around, Hammett is playing to the depression-era readers, giving them a hero they can dream themselves into. Nick Charles has it all. He’s managed to marry young and rich, so he can traipse around New York with pockets full of cash, offering quips while drinking (seemingly) nonstop and staying out all hours. But before all this, he was a detective and now he’s being pulled back into that murky world.
Turns out an inventor friend of his, Clyde Wynant, a recluse inventor and one very thin dude, is wanted on suspicion of murder. His secretary has been found ventilated with four slugs. But nobody knows where Clyde is, not his lie-a-minute ex-wife, the gigolo she’s now married to, or his creepy mid-developed grown kids. Nick doesn’t want to dig into this – he doesn’t like the ex-wife, it’s been years, and he’s only in town for New Years. But gradually the cops pull him in and he’s back to doing what he does best – not running timber concerns or a narrow-gauge railroad, but solving crimes.
As I said, Nick’s a pretty likable guy. All the socialites love to stop in and drink his booze. The cops have to suck up to him, recognizing his abilities even though they don’t like sharing with him. Even the mugs of the speakeasies (and, amazingly, the cons he’s put into prison), they all like hanging out with him. And who doesn’t like to be liked?
I enjoyed this yarn. It was good, even seeing that Nick has all the traits of a borderline alcoholic. And I’ll note that it really bugged me when they took a cab to someone’s apartment and they told the driver to wait – and then all sorts of dialog and drink-pouring an plot development took place, yet I’m thinking, “The driver’s still waiting downstairs!”
But no, it was fun. The climax builds up nice and sharp, with the missing Thin Man moving unseen through the background like a rogue black hole disturbing the orbits of more stable planets. I had an inkling, at the very end, of what had happened but not to the degree Nick Charles did – I can’t match him, sleuthing or drinking.
Anyway, good story. I’d give it four taps with a sap in a dark alley.
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