Critical Evaluation

Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man presents a picture of sophisticated New York life at the end of the Prohibition era. The plot itself follows the pattern set by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) and by Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Hammett, too, pits an astute detective against a questioning companion and the somewhat obtuse and distrustful police, and he, too, drops clues to give the reader a chance to solve the mystery before allowing his detective to provide the final explanation.

The Thin Man was the last and most popular of Hammett’s novels. It is the most briskly paced of his books, and its intricate plot is ingenious and deceptive as well as logical and believable. The action takes place among members of New York café society during the Prohibition era, a frenzied, colorful world of money, corruption, sex, booze, and violence that Hammett portrays with accuracy and energy. The book did very well commercially, and it also spawned a radio program, a television series, and an extremely successful sequence of films in the 1930’s and 1940’s starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

With the characters Nick and Nora Charles, Hammett created one of the most distinctive detective couples in the entire genre. They give the novel the kind of verbal wit and situational humor seen only occasionally in Hammett’s earlier works. As a former detective of obvious skill and...

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