The story is set in New York City in December 1932, in the last days of Prohibition. The main characters are a former private detective, Nick Charles and Nora, his clever young wife. Nick, son of a Greek immigrant, has given up his career since marrying Nora, a wealthy socialite and he spends most of his time cheerfully getting drunk in hotel rooms and speakeasies. Nick and Nora have no children but they 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 the Wynants, a rather grotesque family, and with various 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.