Friday, October 02, 2015

Hammett’s Roller Coaster Ride

In a good-size excerpt from his new book, The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury USA), Nathan Ward recounts the circumstances under which a finally well-off Hammett produced his fifth and last novel, 1934’s The Thin Man. In a concentrated rush, while denying himself his usual fill of pricey booze and staying locked away from his partner, fellow author Lillian Hellman, Hammett delivered what was, to an obvious extent, a roman à clef:
The book he had written, in addition to its central mystery plot about the search for a missing inventor, Clyde Wynant, over several days in December, was also clearly an account of what it was like to be suddenly wealthy and an ex-detective from San Francisco, spending as quickly as the money came in and bantering with your sophisticated lady friend at a series of parties and Manhattan hotels.

Sometimes in his bathrobe, having scotch for breakfast, Nick Charles is a burnt-out case moved to do things mainly out of love for his wife. “We didn’t come to New York to stay sober,” he reminds her when events threaten his Christmas plans. Up from the lobby of his Hotel Normandie come a host of characters from his detecting past. The adventure seeks him out, buzzed and resistant as he is. Even when wounded by a bullet, he is in his hotel bed, throwing a pillow in defense. Nick Charles is three things rare in a good detective: drunk, famous, and accompanied usually by his charming wife.
You can read the full excerpt in The Stacks.


Bill Crider said...

I notice that you refer to Hellman as Hammett's "partner," thus avoiding the serious blunder in the excerpt.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Yes, I also noticed that incorrect "wife" reference. I don't believe Dashiell Hammett ever married Lillian Hellman, though they lived together for many years.


N.C. W. said...

Yes, the word "wife" was unfortunately added in the adaptation of the excerpt. The book has it right.