Patricia Calhoun's blog teasing today's One Book, One Denver selection notes that the city has previously enforced a no-dead-author rule when it comes to choosing a tome all of us are supposed to read, and share, together. Well, that's all over. Mayor John Hickenlooper announced that this year's winner is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, who's not only deceased, but really deceased, having breathed his last way back in 1961.
At first blush, Hammett's 1934 novel seems to be yet another selection with precisely zip to do with our fair state. Turns out, though, that it does reference one of Colorado's more notorious figures -- none other than Alferd Packer.
As noted in this roundup about everyone's favorite cannibal, Packer allegedly dined on some of his traveling companions in 1874 -- and after Thomas S. Duke retold the story in a book called Celebrated Criminal Cases of North America circa 1910, the tale became a fixture in the young century's popular culture. Just over twenty years later, Hammett quoted from Duke's account in The Thin Man, where screenwriter Ted Griffin eventually stumbled upon it -- an act that is responsible for giving shlock-cinema lovers the gift that is 1999's Ravenous.
If anyone should be thrilled by Hick's pick, it's yours truly. After all, my son, Nicholas Charles Roberts, is named after Nick Charles, the detective who shares the protagonist slot in the tale alongside his wife, Nora. But our Nick's moniker is more of a tribute to the wonderful series of Thin Man movies featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy than it is a tip of the cap to its prose blueprint. Don't get me wrong: Hammett's book is solid and enjoyable, if not as exciting as his finest offering, 1929's Red Harvest. But it doesn't speak specifically to life in Denver in 2008, either by way of its setting or because its author hails from these parts.
Why does the city continue to shy away from One Book, One Denver selections that might do either or both? That's a mystery even Nick Charles might be unable to solve -- and the character's love of boozing would seem to fly in the face of excuses given for not choosing Jack Kerouac's On the Road last year. But at least careful Thin Man readers will be able to find a Colorado mention they can sink their teeth into. -- Michael Roberts