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The Postman Always Rings Twice [Paperback]

James M. Cain
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 14 1989 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
An amoral young tramp.  A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband.  A problem that has only one grisly solution--a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America's bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.

Frequently Bought Together

The Postman Always Rings Twice + The Big Sleep + The Maltese Falcon
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Product Details

Product Description


"A good, swift, violent story." --Dashiell Hammett

"A poet of the tabloid murder." --Edmund Wilson

From the Back Cover

"A good, swift, violent story." --Dashiell Hammett

"A poet of the tabloid murder." --Edmund Wilson

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Despair and degradation as art April 17 2004
This is a book you read once and can't stop thinking about. It's what I call a 'blue book', one that is soulful and strangely mellow. It actually makes me feel like I'm underneath a very shady tree on a sunny day. Reason being that the light is very blue green, so a 'blue' book.
Before I try to make sense of this, let's continue.
Frank Chambers is a young drifter who rolls into town, goes to work in a diner for Nick, a tough Greek, falls for Nick's young wife Cora, then decides, with Cora's help, to murder Nick and take over the restaurant. What should be simple becomes more complex. The first murder attempt fails, the second one is successful but easy to see through. With the help of a very smart and very crooked lawyer, both Frank and Cora are soon free. That, really, is where the problems start.
Frank and Cora love and hate each other fiercely, speaking with remarkably accurate, real dialogue. Cain doesn't even attribute his dialogue, so pay close attention to who's speaking. The book is mostly just people talking, in very real language, full of slang and fragmented sentences. It's like listening to a REALLY interesting conversation.
Frank and Cora are two very small, unremarkable, inconsequential people caught up in something too big for them to understand. They mistake happiness and hope for lust, hate, anger and even apathy. And just when things look alright, one little, honest accident washes it all away. This book shows us how fragile everything is, or at least how fragile it can be. That's what elevates this to the level of tragedy. This is something to live with and dwell upon, something you can never quite shake off, no matter how hard you try.
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Poolroom hustler, con artist, auto mechanic, bum--Frank Chambers, after being thrown off a hay truck he'd stowed away on the night before, wanders into the Twin Oaks Tavern and talks the owner into a giving him a free lunch. Then the owner offers him a job fixing cars. Frank hesitates. Then he sees the owner's wife. Frank takes the job.

Thus begins this tawdry tale of desperation, lust and lies. Published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its violence and eroticism, "The Postman Always Rings Twice" is like back alley fisticuffs--it ain't pretty, but it works.

"I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs."

No, this isn't "Romeo and Juliet." It's two careless people who somehow fall in love in spite of each other and then convince themselves they can get away with murder.

The results are less than spectacular.

This story is bare-knuckled, unflinchingly masculine, and briskly told in 116 pages. Frank Chambers himself narrates, peppering the narrative with 1930s colloquialisms and a drifter's outlook.

It's as American as a motorcycle cop on a California highway.

I should also state for the record, both movie versions of this book were terribly miscast.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Novella Noir Muy Bien Oct. 8 2002
I just came upon The Postman Always Rings Twice by chance from traversing the Modern Library's top 100 novels of the 20th Century and then checked it out on Amazon. So I decided to read it and came away plesantly surprised. It's laconic, short, dark, and undoubtedly a ground-breaking novella. This is the bad boy that started the whole roman noir and existentialism genre back in 1934. Albert Camus, the author credited with fully developing existentialism and the depiction of characters devoid of conscious, credited Cain as his inspiration for his very similar masterpiece, The Stranger, after having read The Postman.
The two leading enigmatic characters, Frank and Cora, as does Meursault in The Stranger, assume ultimate responsibility for their heinous acts of free will without any knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad. Being a novel noir genre fan, I recommend the once-banned Postman to anyone who has the stomach for some mild eroticism, violence, and moreover, clever writing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hemingway stream-lined and accelerated July 9 2002
I spent some time trying to find out why this potboiler turned literature is called "The Postman Always Rings Twice" since at no place in the novel is a postman even mentioned. At first I thought it might be an echo of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, dreamt up by Knopf, Cain's publisher, to lend some literary pretension to a novel they weren't sure about; but that play wasn't written until some years after Postman was published in 1934. It was recently suggested to me (by Joseph Feinsinger, one of's best reviewers of literature) that it might be a rejoinder for the saying "opportunity knocks only once," which was the sort of pabulum given to out of work people during the depression. Cain's original title was "Bar-B-Que," which is entirely appropriate for a couple of reasons (the café, the burning car), but was perhaps a little too morbid for Knopf's sensibilities.
At any rate, the title finally chosen is somewhat magical as is the novel itself, the first of Cain's hard-boiled, loser tales that somehow caught the imagination and psyche of depression America. Re-reading the novel today one wonders why, but then again, I can see why.
First there's the raw sex with Frank forcing himself onto Cora, biting her lip, etc. and she loving it, that was somewhat shocking for its time. Ditto for the spontaneous sex they have in the dirt outside the car after Frank has beamed Nick. Then there is the fascination we have with stupid people doing vile deeds rather clumsily (with whom we might identify). But more than anything else it's the style.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit bare-bones but the heart's all there.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic landmark work of crime fiction and very much worth a read both for its cultural significance and on the merits of the story itself. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Kei Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of Despair
This slim novel was first publishedin 1934, it felt timeless to me and was finished in one sitting without pause. Read more
Published on May 19 2004 by David A. Riley
5.0 out of 5 stars a master a work
A blurb on the back dubbed this "a swift, violent story". Yes! Bracing and breathtaking in its economy and speed. Apparently L'Etranger used this as its model. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2003 by H.S. Cross
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't tempt fate
Opportunity may knock once, but fate may ring at your door more than once and has a strange way of turning on you. Read more
Published on July 21 2003 by Damian P. Gadal
4.0 out of 5 stars Oldie, but a goldie...
Classic ! A little old fashioned, but that's what's charming about the book. The story is well told. I was not disappointed...
Published on July 13 2003 by Jean-Marc M Salama
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
This was a perfect adultery/murder/cover-up story. The writing style is very simple, but vivid, and the story will have you on the edge of your seat. Read more
Published on June 21 2003 by P. Costello
4.0 out of 5 stars Good afternoon read
This classic noir novel does not disappoint, even in our cynical age. This would make a good book for an airline flight or some time when you have a few hours to kill. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2003 by Scott Swindle
4.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling roller coaster of a read!
Once you start to read this book, you will be gripped. I couldn't put the darn thing down for a minute. Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Noir
This is the classic story of murder and adultery tied up in a tightly woven style that is in your face from the opening paragraph. Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2002 by Untouchable
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm impressed
I had to read this book for my AP English class as summer reading. I usually hate the books that my school makes me read. However, right from the first page, it had me hooked. Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2002 by Sherry Berry
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