Although Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are better known today, James M. Cain (1892-1977) is at least their equal--and many consider that he bested both in his finest novels, which combined sin-blacked characters, sordid plots, terse prose, and all the power of a blast furnace. This anthology collects all three of his landmark novels as well as several short stories, all of them showing Cain at the height of his powers. Published in 1934, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is the truly deadly story of a drifter who squirms his way into a job at a California truck stop--and then squirms his way into the bed of a sexy waitress. Trouble is, the waitress is married to the boss... and she doesn't like it, not one little bit. Dripping with lust, deception, and irony, POSTMAN is at once sickening and fascinating, a true powerhouse of a novel that festers long after the story has ended. DOUBLE INDEMNITY, published in 1936, is equally hot--the tale of an insurance sales man who stays on the right side of the law until he is tempted by a psychopathic femme fatale who doesn't see anything wrong with picking up a few bucks on the unexpected death of her unwanted husband. MILDRED PIERCE, published in 1941, is equally memorable in its portrait of a driven housewife with a wayward husband who discovers that she will do absolutely anything for her vicious, serpentine daughter. All three novels have been famously filmed, but while the film versions (most created during the 1940s) stand well on their own, the novels out distance them in nothing flat.Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Welcome to the InfernoJuly 1 2004
Gary F. Taylor
- Published on Amazon.com
Although Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are better known today, James M. Cain (1892-1977) is at least their equal--and many consider that he bested both in his finest novels, which combined sin-blacked characters, sordid plots, terse prose, and all the power of a blast furnace. This anthology collects all three of his landmark novels as well as several short stories, all of them showing Cain at the height of his powers. Published in 1934, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is the truly deadly story of a drifter who squirms his way into a job at a California truck stop--and then squirms his way into the bed of a sexy waitress. Trouble is, the waitress is married to the boss... and she doesn't like it, not one little bit. Dripping with lust, deception, and irony, POSTMAN is at once sickening and fascinating, a true powerhouse of a novel that festers long after the story has ended. DOUBLE INDEMNITY, published in 1936, is equally hot--the tale of an insurance sales man who stays on the right side of the law until he is tempted by a psychopathic femme fatale who doesn't see anything wrong with picking up a few bucks on the unexpected death of her unwanted husband. MILDRED PIERCE, published in 1941, is equally memorable in its portrait of a driven housewife with a wayward husband who discovers that she will do absolutely anything for her vicious, serpentine daughter. All three novels have been famously filmed, but while the film versions (most created during the 1940s) stand well on their own, the novels out distance them in nothing flat. Cora, begging Frank to bite her lips until they bleed; Phyllis with lipstick splashed across her mouth like a bleeding gash; sleek Monte and his viper-like stepdaughter Veda--all portraits of reckless abandon so powerful that they blister the page. The volume also includes five hard-to-find Cain stories that are often as memorable as the best of his novels, most notably I think "The Baby in the Ice Box" and "Brush Fire." But whether it is novels or his shorter works, you simply can't go wrong when it comes to the best of James M. Cain. Welcome to the inferno. Brace yourself for the straight-down ride. GFT, Amazon Reviewer
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Pioneer of American NoirJan. 5 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
James M Cain (1892 -1977) is best remembered for a series of novels he wrote while working as a screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1930s, including "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Double Indemnity" and "Mildred Pierce". These novels were highly popular in their day and were made into several classic movies. Sometimes denigrated as "pulp" or even as "trash", these novels offer their own vision of American life and make a substantial contribution to American literature. The three novels, together with five rare Cain short stories, are available at a modest price in this hardback edition from Everyman's Library. The volume also includes an introductory essay on Cain by Robert Polito together with a chronology of Cain's life and work.
The novels are set in the Depression-era 1930s in southern California, including Los Angeles and its environs. There is feeling of place in each of these novels, particularly of cheap seedy businesses, impoverished dwellings, lonely roads and railroad tracks, poolhalls, and chop houses. The novels offer a stark view of human sexuality and lust and a dismal view of human nature as motivated by greed, jealousy, and class envy. Cain portrays a society that is philistine and always on the make. Women tend to be the stronger characters in Cain's novels. They take the initiative with their men, most often by usuing their sexuality but sometimes through ambition and effort as well. The men tend to be shiftless, unfocused and driven by their passions. Cain's writing is tough, descriptive, colloquial, and short.
The two short works in this collection, "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity" are stories of murder and violence. Both are told in a confessional style by a male narrator who is about to receive his end for his misdeeds. This style gives the books a strong sense of immediacy. "Postman" is set in suburban Los Angeles among the poor. Its primary character is a 24 year old grifter who becomes involved with the wife of a small owner of a restaurant and plots with her to kill him. The man is referred to by the characters as "The Greek" and their are overtones of prejudice throughout the work. The sexual character of the work was raw and overwhelming in its day, and it remains potent. The illicit affair is described in great detail with strong overtones of masochism on behalf of the woman. The novel details the murder plots, the streets of Los Angeles, and the criminal justice system of the day. It ends with an ironic but fated twist.
"Double Indemnity" also involves a scheme by a woman and her lover to murder the husband. In this case, the motive is more greed -- for the proceeds of an expensive insurance policy -- than lust. The narrator is an insurance salesman who becomes infatuated with the wife of an executive of an oil company. Thus, the story takes place among the middle and upper middle classes rather than among the poor; and, as was "Postman" it is narrated by the primary male character as a confessional before he meets his end. The leading female character in the book is sharply drawn and substantially more evil than her counterpart in "Postman." The book shows a good deal of internal development of its characters and works to a tense ending.
The third novel, "Mildred Pierce" is the longest and probably most substantial of the three. It has the same basic noir setting as the earlier works -- southern California in the 1930, but is much more psychologically probing than its companions. It does not involve a murder, but it shows even more than the shorter novels the darker aspects of human nature and the effects of lust and greed.
Cain's major character, Mildred Pierce, is a strongly and complexly drawn figure. She breaks with her philandering, ne'r do well husband and attempts to raise two young daughters on her own. She plays favorites between her two daughters. When the younger, less favored daughter tragically dies, Mildred redoubles her efforts towards the older girl, who Mildred believes, has great talent as a classical pianist. The girl, Vera, is ungrateful and spiteful from her youth, and much of the book involves the unravelling of the relationship between mother and daughter.
When she leaves her husband, Mildred has no apparent skills beyond the ability to bake pies. Yet Cain portrays her as a character of drive and ambition. Mildred is able to parlay a job she is forced to take as a waitress in a cheap restaurant, where she is groped and ogled, into a career as an entrepreneur. With this success, Mildred's story is ultimately a sad one as a result of her relationship with her daughter and her failed affairs with two unscrupulous and lustful men following her break with her husband. Cain offers a tough yet hard portrayal of a woman in a book which may grow with the reader.
I enjoyed reading these novels by Cain together with the stories which have qualities similar to the novels. This is a valuable book for those readers interested in noir or in American literature. I am attaching links to the individual titles of these works for further information and reviews for the interested reader.
The Postman Always Rings Twice Double Indemnity Mildred Pierce
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The Master, Masterfully DoneJuly 12 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
If you haven't read James M Cain yet, you have to check him out.
This Everyman's Library edition is a great introduction. You get a lot of story in a tidy little hardback. Good paper, readable print, a volume that practically begs to be held and a nice wee ribbon for a bookmark. And the price is right, too.
Cain's prose is lean, tight and wickedly sharp. Like a back-alley razor-fight, you don't even feel the cut until after you see the blood. By then, it's too late.
Movies have been made of Cain's work. Quite a few, actually. He's stayed in print in Europe for the last fifty years. His work has cast a long shadow over many of our most popular noir authors today.
Way too good to miss.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Novels and Stories by James M. Cain in the Everyman Series is great noir readingMarch 27 2011
C. M Mills
- Published on Amazon.com
When my James M. Cain Everyman Edition of three of his novels and five short stories arrived this reviewer found himself in noir heaven! The handsome edition of some of Cain's best work includes five short stories and three of his superb novels. They are: The Postman Always Rings Twice-A bum named Frank falls off a hay truck and into the arms of Cora the waitress. Cora and Frank plan the murder of Nick, Cora's ignorant and ugly Greek husband. The two lovers then develop a loathing for one another. This gritty tale was filmed in 1946 starring John Garfield and the luscious Lana Turner. This is a short novella of only a little over 100 action packed pages. The book is narrated in the first person by Frank. Double Indemnity-Walter is an insurance man who meets Phyllis. Phyllis and Walter plan to murder her husband collecting the insurance on a double indemnity policy. Walter turns against Phyllis when he learns of her murderous past but it is too late for the doomed pair. The book evokes the atmosphere of 1930s Los Angeles and is tautly written with great one liners. This book was also turned into a film classic starring Fred MacMurray as Walter, Barbara Stanwyck as the evil Phyllis and the deft directorial genius of Billy Wilder on display., A richer book than Postman. Both of these classics show us what happened when a weak man is entrapped by an evil and wily woman. Sex is dangerous in the world of Cain. The book is narrated by Walter. Mildred Pierce-The longest of the three Cain novels was published in 1941. It concerns Mildred Pierce who begins at the bottom of the ladder as a waitress who climbs to riches as the owner of several California restaurants. Mildred is surrounded by men who are jerks; Burt, her former husband; Monty her lazy second husband and Wally a lawyer who is always hoping to score in the love department with the sexy Mildred. The book features one of the worst creatures in all of Americna Literature: VEDA! The greedy, grasping, egocentric and cruel oldest daughter of Mildred is a spoiled classical music singer with a love of stealing men from mom. Veda loves to put the hardworking Mildred down! The novel's ending is different and weaker than that of the 1945 film version which netted Joan Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar. Cain has a delightful style and is easier to read than Chandler whose plots are so convoluted and hard to follow. Cain (1893-1977) was a Maryland born journalist; magazine editor and Hollywood script writer. His popularity will get a boost this year with the release of the HBO "Mildred Pierce" miniseries starring the fetching Kate Winslett. The short stories are ironical especially "Brushfire" and the chilling "Baby in the Icebox." Settle back and enjoy great reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
for lovers of the hard boiledFeb. 8 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
If you love thrillers and hard boiled fiction, these novels from the 1930's are still great - well-written and interesting! If you are a film noir buff, you will enjoy reading the source of some of the most important films in this genre.