Advantages Old fashioned mystery - holds the attention
Disadvantages None if taken on its own terms
|Would you read it again?|
|How does it compare to similar books?|
|How does it compare to other works by the same author?|
Nowhere in the book is Nick actually referred to as "Nick The Greek" - but somehow you keep expecting it. It's that kind of milieu - that time period. Of course his wife does frequently refer to him as 'just a Greek' 'a lying Greek' and other such terms of affection. Books must be taken as 'of their time' however and Nora does mean it affectionately. It shines throughout that she and Nick are still in love and totally blissfully happy in their marriage and their life. (Except maybe he drinks too much: Nora)Nick Charles - Charles, because 'Charalambides' was too much for the immigration officer - used to be a famous detective. He 'retired'. Got married, became a businessman. You can't help thinking that during the '20s/'30s this wasn't a smart move - but even during the depression people were making a killing.
Killing is, unfortunately, what stops Nick and Nora from enjoying their Christmas holiday. They're staying in a New York hotel, because being at home in SF would involve visits with the relatives. They're having a ball - until a small, blonde, 'satisfactory' girl approaches Nick in a speak-easy.Dorothy Wynant was 12 last time he saw her - some business her father needed him to take care of. Now she's all grown up, and looking for her dad. A chance meeting? Maybe. But it's the intro to Nick's involvement in murder.
Shortly afterwards, Julia Wolf - PA (& lover?) of Dorothy's father is found dead in her apartment. Dorry and her mother want Nick to investigate - Nick just wants to make like a businessman, have a holiday and drink a little more than might even be legal. Of course, you know he's not going to be allowed to do that. The police are soon on to him…the hoods are soon on to him…and the Wynants are showing no sign of letting go.This is the famous Nick Charles after all.
~If you're familiar with the works of Hammett - and especially if you're familiar with The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key - and more especially yet if you're familiar via the film interpretations, you might be expecting 'film noir' rendered literary. Not a bit of it.
The 1934 film version of The Thin Man (William Powell & Myrna Loy) had the tagline "A laugh tops every thrilling moment!" - which sounds like a sound interpretation of the book. It is simply a romp of a mystery.The mystery story is central. Who killed Julia Wolf - and why? Suspects abound. Everyone, not discounting Nick and the police, could conceivably have a motive - if getting at Julia was a way to get at Wynant. If not: then no-one has a motive.
Along the way the mood is lightened by the romantic comedy of Nick & Nora's lovestruck marriage, the jazz nuances of the speaks, the crazy optimism that the rich champagne sipping always cling to, when the rest of the world is sinking. The crooks are quite fun too.Hammett dishes up a rare feast. A crime drama that, whilst not laugh-out-loud funny, has some great one-liners just written for Hollywood and taken in total is a sheer delight to read. He captures the era in all its joy and pain and absurdity. He renders all of the clichés believable. And of course he doles out the clues, slowly, one at a time, served up (as is traditional) with a slice of red herring. "What's a clue?" asks Nick.
At only 189 pages, this isn't a 'stuck in the airport' book - it's a flight book. One to start on take-off and finish in time to catch some shut-eye before landing. It deserves to be read at a sitting - and the intrigue is sufficiently maintained to make you want to do so.Maybe, I'm getting old - or maybe they really don't write them like that anymore!
~The reviewed copy was part of the second Penguin Classic Crime collection of paperbacks sold via 'Past Times' - with no stated cover price.
First published in 1932 it was Hammett's last novel (though he lived for another thirty years) and the theory goes that the characters of Nick & Nora are personifications of himself and his lover Lillian Hellmann.Various editions are still available in both hardback & paperback - prices vary, but you won't be stung. It's the kind of book to read and enjoy and forget. Put it on the shelf - I guarantee you'll pick it up in a few years time and start reading it again, and know you should know what it's all about, but you won't be able to dredge it. It's not meant to stay with you - simply to entertain for a while. And that it does - in spades!
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Edition: 75 Anv Una, Audio CD, BBC Audiobooks
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Edition: 75 Anv Una, Audio CD, BBC Audiobooks
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 to 3 weeks