My reading still has a vaguely Christmas-y feel at the moment as I'm working through the books I bought myself to get in the mood but didn't get to before the big day (not to mention the ones I was given as well - a whole pile of treats awaiting attention). Long dark nights and crappy weather make me crave classic Noir, I don't mind if it's in book or film form but I've got to have some. 'The Thin Man' has a particularly appealing blurb as well: "Ex-detective Nick Charles plans to spend a quiet Christmas holed up in a hotel suite with his glamorous wife Nora, their pet Schnauzer and a case of good Scotch. But then a bullet - riddled corpse and a missing inventor (not to mention a beautiful young woman) force him out of retirement..."
Despite several bullet ridden corpses this isn't an especially festive read (Christmas only gets the barest of mentions) but it is good Noir. Hammett is the man credited with inventing the genre, Raymond Chandler called him "The ace performer" and he worked for Pinkerton's detective agency - so there's a chance it's not all fiction. Chandler treads very similar ground and I don't think anyone does hard boiled quite as well as he does - (but then without Hammett would there have been a Chandler?) it took a few chapters to shake off the comparison (Hammett has more humour) but eventually the ace performer came through.
Hammett himself has quite a history - detective, veteran of both world wars, communist (black listed and jailed), TB and no stranger to a drink or two. The most striking feature about 'The Thin Man' is the amount of alcohol consumed - it was published not long after prohibition ended but is set against a background of speakeasy's and spectacularly heavy drinking -whisky for breakfast and then drink after drink - it's almost a surprise that anyone was sober enough to plan and commit murders, more of a surprise that Nick Charles is sober enough to solve a crime - especially one as ingenious as this.
What makes the book, as with all the best Noir (and this obviously reflects my own personal preferences) are the one liners, Hammett would have held his own in conversation with Mae West and Gypsy Rose Lee. He's smart and funny with an eye for absurdity as well as a general world weariness, there is no doubt that Hammett believed things could be better and was angry that they weren't .
Penguin keep slipping these little Noir gems out ('In a Lonely Place', 'If I Die Before I Wake' a whole lot of Chandler...) and I can only hope that they both find more and that someone (I'm looking at you amazon recommends) makes more effort to bring them to my attention. Potentially good news is that Johnny Depp is involved in a project to remake 'The Thin Man' - the old black and white films are brilliant but these are cracking good books and some remakes could be fun.