Set in Post-Prohibition-era New York City, former private detective Nick Charles is drawn reluctantly into investigating a murder. 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.
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.
At first glance, Hammett’s fifth and final novel seems to have a lighter tone than The Maltese Falcon or The Glass Key. Closer examination, however, reveals that The Thin Man is Hammett’s most cynical novel: Nick Charles honestly doesn’t care is the killer is brought to justice or not.