Friday, September 26, 2008

#1 - "The Thin Man" by Dashiell Hammett

Every year the city of Denver picks a novel for "One Book, One Denver." The city chooses a book, encourages the population to read it, and organizes events themed around the novel. I have no idea how many Denver city dwellers actually read the book, but I like the idea of trying to create a common experience among such a large, relatively diverse population. So when I discovered that The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett was the novel, I immediately grabbed it from the library and read it through.

The One Book, One Denver program was started in 2004, and I've only read one other "Denver" book, The Milagro Beanfield War and the choice from 2006 (which I will most likely write about at some later point because I enjoyed it so much). Even if I had read all five books from this program, I doubt I would find any kind of common theme. However, I was surprised that the book chosen was written in 1934 and the author is no longer alive, since the city's stated policy is to choose books where the author might be able to participate in some of the events.

To sum things up quickly, the story is about Nick and Nora Charles, a wealthy and married couple hanging out in New York City for Christmas and New Years. Nick had been a private investigator before he married into money, and he manages to solve a murder by the end of their stay and the end of the novel.

I'm glad that I read this book because I found it intriguing and different. I came close but did not figure out where Hammett was going with the mystery until the end and I enjoyed some of the banter and the glimpse of a life filled with constant drinking, parties, connections, and danger never taken seriously.

The language in the very first paragraph immediately brought to mind a black and white movie (I haven't seen any of the films based on this novel as of yet) starring Humphrey Bogart as he leans against a bar and drawls out the narrative of the novel:

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 came over to me. She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes, the result was satisfactory.

The creative and sparse dialogue and descriptions as well as the nonchalant way the protagonist makes his way through the story make for an absorbing read. However, the lack of sympathetic and likeable characters does not make this novel stand out as a great read. I was vaguely interested in what was happening, but I was never drawn in. I was never particularly worried about any of the characters and I didn't particularly care if the murderer was found. But I still like the idea of One Denver, One Book, and I appreciate that it introduced me to something new.

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