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“The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett

The story starts when Dorothy Wynant, a pretty girl of twenty, asks Nick Charles, a retired private detective, to help her find her father and arrange a meeting with him. She hadn’t seen her father since her parents’ divorce and misses him, but knows her mother would strongly disapprove of the meeting. Still, the beginning seems innocent enough until the personal secretary of Dorothy’s father is found dead in her own apartment with four bullets in her body.

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Nick Charles doesn’t want to investigate crimes again – he wants to devote himself to the management of his wife’s estate. But the circumstances are such that he can’t stay away from this one. As we keep turning pages, we meet Dorothy’s mother Mimi, her new husband Christian, her son Gilbert and a few more people. It’s a nice collection of thoroughly weird individuals. Mimi goes hysterical at the slightest provocation, Gilbert wants to know everything about perverted people – he is particularly interested in cannibalism – and after finishing the book I still don’t know whether Mimi actually beat her daughter or Dorothy just paraded self-inflicted wounds and bruises and blamed her mother out of spite. Both options look equally likely considering how the ladies behave through the book. And it’s hinted that Clyde Wynant, the father of Dorothy and Gilbert, is completely mad, though a scientist – but we never get to meet him

But did any of them kill Julia Wolf?

The police seem unusually friendly to Nick. Wynant’s lawyer explicitly says he’d like Nick to take over the case. Mysterious letters come from Clyde Wynant, expressing the same desire. Mimi is rude to Nick one day and makes amends the next day, obviously insecure about her future and in need of protection. The same is true about Dorothy, to a higher extent. Before long she becomes friends with Nick’s wife, Nora, who looks refreshingly sane among all this madness. To earn the right to go back to his quite, routine everyday life Nick has to solve this mystery – though he never officially takes upon the case. And he solves it.

The solution is very pleasantly unexpected – just the kind I like best. I never once thought…

Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. It’s well written – the author’s style is somewhat sarcastic, but I liked it this way. All is written in the first person – Nick’s person that is – and seeing things as they unfolded themselves to Nick is an exciting experience. I soon fell for Nick and Nora – they are both smart, independently thinking and self-sufficient people completely worthy of each other, which is, in my experience, the best basis for a happy marriage. And though most of other characters are nuts, none of them is exactly repulsive. They make me laugh, not cringe in disgust.

Found by chance in the local library, this book has helped me discover another name – Dashiell Hammett, yet another master of my favourite genre. I hope to find more books by him.

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