The Return of The Thin Man
edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett
This is my first real book review in a very long while. Like in over thirty years. The last memorable one I recall was Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. That was one heck of a story.
Anyway, I came across this paperback in one of those stores that pop up every now and then that resell seconds and thirds. I wouldn’t have picked it up except that it was going for only a dollar. Plus I had a lot of time to kill whilst waiting on my car to be repaired.
It’s funny because the other night I managed to catch the second half of the Trumbo bio-flick on Foxtel. I must have enjoyed it because I sat through it mesmerised both by the story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and the often funny (in a nice way) performance of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad fame). I never knew that Kirk Douglas was very much a rebel and fought the studios to have Dalton pen the screenplay.
It must be one of those timely reminders when you need to pay attention to what the cosmos is trying to tell you. Opportunities knock.
Anyway, I picked up The Return of The Thin Man (plus a few others – well, $1 a book is a really great deal, don’t you reckon) and started reading it. I was laughing after the first page and kept breaking out in chuckles throughout. It’s part of Hammett’s legacy, being among his unpublished papers and cobbled together by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett. It’s claimed that Hammett started this genre of the mystery detective with comedy thrown in back in the 1930s. All I knew as I read it was it was worth the find.
This paperback is presented in book form but was written in script format. There are two novellas: After The Thin Man and Another Thin Man. There was also an eight-page outline for a third work entitled Sequel to The Thin Man that’s been included but which never got off the ground.
Hammett tired of the series and left leaving the studio to hack together several more in the franchise which didn’t fare as well as the original and sequel. The Thin Man Goes Home was one such gaffe; the title alone warrants comparison to those uninventive movies titles for the Rambo franchise.
The script style is intriguing to me. There is economy of words in describing each scene that removes much of the detritus you tend to find in many “blockbuster” titles. Much of the content is dialogue, as it should be given it’s a script for a movie. And yet it’s tight. And, in my eyes, extremely appealing from a writing perspective.
The characters, Nick and Nora Charles, are superb as the married couple who have an interesting side hobby. They are the perfect foil for each other and the shady world they sometimes enter as they navigate their way through all the bodies that keep littering their way. As Hammett himself says, they are “smug” at times. But that’s part of their charm for me. Nick is the detective while Nora is the wealthy wife with a penchant for sticking her nose into trouble but in an extremely entertaining way. Her family, from Aunt Katherine through to cousin Selma and the General are real screwballs, but I love them. Even Abrams is hilarious as the droll unappreciated but totally devoted policeman in charge of the case.
Will finish the novel tonight for sure. Or, with a glass of wine in hand, over the weekend at my leisure.
FYI: Dashiell Hammett also penned The Maltese Falcon