Thursday Reviews: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, Rain Storm by Barry Eisler

The Thin Man

Dashiell Hammett

Hammett’s last novel is radically different from his earlier works. It’s not as cold and stark as the Continental Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. It’s definitely not as dark as his best known novel, The Maltese Falcon. And while it’s cynical, it lacks the world-weary cynicism of Hammett’s largely forgotten The Glass Key.

Nope. This is a screwball comedy, with youthful, idealized versions of Hammett and Lillian Hellman as the chief screwballs. In it, Nick and Nora Charles are wealthy socialites in town to take care of business. The Charleses inherited a couple of businesses from Nora’s father, which has allowed Nick to quit his job as a private detective. But a former client, Richard Wynant, comes to him with a problem. Through his lawyer, he asks Nick to look into the murder of his mistress. Wynant left his wife and kids years ago, and when we meet them, you can see why. Wife Mimi is a needy, attention-seeking piece of work who implies that she and Nick fooled around back in the day. She even tries to do it again with Nora sitting in the next room. (Nick is too loyal and too annoyed.) Son Gilbert is just creepy. And daughter Dorothy? She suffers from frayed nerves caused by being a Wynant. It’s enough to drive Nick and Nora to drink in this Prohibition Era thriller. Fortunately, they don’t have far to drive. Nick and Nora are seldom seen sober in this one.

The book is funny, but there is a common misconception that the title refers to Nick Charles. In fact, it refers to a badly decomposed corpse found near the end of the story. With hardly any flesh on the body, Nick muses that he was a very “thin man.”

Of Hammett’s five novels, The Maltese Falcon is the most cohesive novel. Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Glass Key all show their serialized origins. The Thin Man is the same, but this one also shows some influence from Hammett’s work as a screenwriter. As I said before, this one is a screwball comedy. It also has the pacing and feel of a 1930’s movie to the point where I could only see it in my mind as a black-and-white movie.

My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands

Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Handler loves sex. More importantly, she loves men. It’s these two intense interests that have gotten the comedian into more trouble in her life, including finding herself trapped outside of her own apartment dressed up like an M&M.

Handler makes no secret of being an unabashed hedonist. It annoys her father, drives her Mormon sister up a tree, and puts her in bed (literally) with some of the strangest people. She gives it to us all in nots-so-graphic detail, but also not hiding her warts. This is a party girl who has lived a shallow life. She knows it, and that’s what makes this humorous look at her sex life so endearing.

Rain Storm

Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler’s Japanese-American assassin John Rain returns. We find him in Rio laying low and trying to put the killing game behind him. However, Rain is good at making assassinations look like natural causes. This attracts the CIA (“Christians In Action,” as Rain and some of his colleagues derisively call it), who have more work for him: A money man for several Middle Eastern terrorist groups who has a penchant for gambling.

Rain trusts no one, not even his CIA contacts. Things get complicated when he is caught by the terrorist’s companion (the most dangerous naked woman in the whole espionage genre), who turns out to have her own operation happening. On top of that, Rain’s comment that the US government’s left hand and right hand being clueless about each other turns out to be true. It also turns out to be possibly fatal for Rain if he isn’t careful.

Rain is a paranoid man, but for practical reasons. His is a profession where double crosses are occupational hazards, and even at the most critical moments, he doesn’t trust his allies, expected to be left for dead or killed for personal gain. Obviously, this is not Rain’s last adventure, but one wonders how he continues.