Maybe I'll Have Another Drink - The Boozy Sleuthing of Nick and Nora Charles


When it comes writers that people think are cool, it gets a little thick with possibilities. Obviously, you can't say "cool" without thinking of the Beats (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kinsey, Watts, etc.). But, "cool" sometimes becomes merged with the literary transgressors of the 20th Century, such or the druggies and alcoholics (Thompson, Leary, Bukowski, Thomas), the sexually obsessed (Lawrence, Miller, Nin) and those obsessed with death (Plath, Hemingway)

The characters of Nick and Nora Charles, a high-society couple solving crimes between cocktails always struck me as a certain epitome of cool. Okay, first a caveat: within the novel "The Thin Man" by Dashiell Hammett, Nick drinks a small distillery worth of spirits during the course of each day. Most of the short scenes include characters making, drinking, refilling and re-refilling their drinks over a handful of conversations. Let alone solve a murder, I'm not really sure how they actually continue standing upright. 

Okay, with that out of the way, the central characters are wonderful. Nick Charles, former private detective, and his socialite wife Nora trade witty banter, host parties and, yes, solve crimes during their Christmas vacation. Nick can hold his own with criminals, talk tough with police detectives and seems to usually have a pretty clear view of what's going on around him, even if he mixing his fourth scotch and soda. Likewise, Nora is game for adventure, sympathetic to the various victims and always ready with another witty comment when Charles is stumped or otherwise incapacitated. 

Myrna Low and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles

Myrna Low and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles

"The Thin Man" was made into a movie with William Powell and Myrna Low in 1934. Though less "tough" than the Nick in the book, Powell made the character his own. As Roger Ebert one said, "William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance."  It was a huge success largely due to the chemistry of a Powell and Low and spawned six sequels, a TV show and countless imitators. I highly recommend "Beyond Belief" whose characters Frank and Sadie Doyle are a modern homage to Nick and Nora. 

Now, pass me my drink.