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The Thin Man (1934) is a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally published in Redbook. Although he never wrote a sequel, the book became the basis for a successful six-part film series which also began in 1934 with The Thin Man and starred William Powell and Myrna Loy. A Thin Man television series followed in the 1950s.
An early draft of the story, written several years before the published version, and now in print in several collections of Hammett's work, does not mention the main characters of the novel, Nick and Nora Charles, and ends after ten chapters. It is about a quarter of the length of the finished book.
The Thin Man was Hammett's last published novel. Lillian Hellman, in an introduction to a compilation of Hammett's five novels, contemplated several explanations for Hammett's retirement as a novelist:
I have been asked many times over the years why he did not write another novel after The Thin Man. I do not know. I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do a new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker. But he kept his work, and his plans for work, in angry privacy and even I would not have been answered if I had ever asked, and maybe because I never asked is why I was with him until the last day of his life.
However, following the success of the movie version of "The Thin Man" movie in 1934, Hammett was commissioned to work on screenplays for sequels. During the course of this work, he wrote "After the Thin Man" and "Another Thin Man", which, discovered amongst Hammett's papers in 2011, together with instructions by Hammett for incorporation of additional elements written by screenwriters Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, were edited by Hammett biographer Richard Layman in collaboration with Hammett's grand-daughter Julie M. Rivett and published as 'novellas' in the book 'Return of The Thin Man' in 2012.
The story is set in Prohibition-era New York City. The main characters are a former private detective, Nick Charles, and his clever young wife, Nora. Nick, son of a Greek immigrant, has given up his career since marrying Nora, a wealthy socialite, and he now spends most of his time cheerfully getting drunk in hotel rooms and speakeasies. Nick and Nora have no children, but they do own a female Schnauzer named Asta. (In the film adaptation, Asta is a male wire-haired fox terrier.)
Charles is drawn, mostly against his will, into investigating a murder. The case brings them in contact with a rather grotesque family, the Wynants, and also with an assortment of policemen and lowlifes. As they attempt to solve the case, Nick and Nora share a great deal of banter and witty dialogue, along with copious amounts of alcohol. The characters of Nick and Nora are often thought to reflect the personalities of Hammett and his long-time lover, Lillian Hellman.
Because the "Thin Man" title was used for the subsequent movies, there is a widespread misapprehension that the term refers to Nick Charles himself; in fact it refers to Clyde Wynant, the mysterious and eccentric patriarch who is the main concern of the plot. A skeletonized body, found during the investigation, had been assumed to be that of a "fat man" due to its being found in clothing from a much heavier man. This clothing is revealed to be a diversion, and the identity of the body is finally revealed as that of a particular "thin man" instead—the missing Wynant. The murder has been disguised in a way to frame Wynant, by people who have stolen a great deal of money from Wynant and killed him, on the night he was last seen.